Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “african-american lit”

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #22 Kindred

There’s something captivating about the first few pages of Butler’s book. Within moments, just as you get comfortable with the characters and 1979 Californian setting, you are hurled (along with the protagonist Dana Franklin) across time and space to an antebellum riverside where a young boy’s life is in jeopardy. Despite the inexplicable and jarring nature of this time travel, both the audience and the character must commit to the circumstances of this situation: hoping to save a life because our natural human impulses command it.

But Kindred has more than just a clever opening. As the story unfolds, Dana must consider the complex interplay of love for family and social justice. For a twentieth century African-American citizen to dive into the world of slavery with perpetual fear and palpable anger in every heartbeat–all for the sake of her white, slave-owning ancestor–is to experience history afresh. Butler manages to not just present or explore an often silently accepted splotch on our American history, but to live it, to battle it and to grudgingly appreciate parts of it.

Few authors have the skill to make this rigorous inhabitation of history (mixed with a healthy-dollop of science fiction) work, but Butler makes it seem effortless. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the characters (both historical and contemporary) seem grounded in genuine humanity and they are easy to relate to, regardless of your own ethnicity. Our emotions are as conflicted as Dana’s, our experience as complex and uncomfortable. The deeper we dig into the book the better we can appreciate issues not just of race, but of honesty and ignorance, violence and love. That’s precisely the kind of work that both my students and I can sink our teeth into with relish.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #20 November Blues

I have already read and reviewed Draper’s Tears of a Tiger, this time I moved on to the author’s slightly thicker series The Jericho Trilogy hoping for something that might be as challenging as Tears of a Tiger was engaging.

November Blues jumps in on the middle of the story as November Nelson learns that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, the father is out of the picture and November has to struggle first with the secret of her pregnancy and then with the facts of delivering a baby to term. Her friends and family weave a web of story lines around her, so that while her drama is front and center in the book, there’s a lot of other story lines (backstabbing, drug dealing and a football season) to digest at once and while some might feel like these story lines come from another world, there’s something for practically everyone to connect to.

Draper’s great at capturing the cadences of a teenage conversation: nobody is staggeringly erudite, and dumbfounded silences are a natural fit amid awkward adolescence. Most notably, unlike Tears of a Tiger where characters kept their feelings masked from readers through the shifting narrative perspectives and diverse styles of writing, November Blues digs in to the heart and mind of people attempting to survive a life shaking event.

While the complexity of the writing won’t provide much challenge to teenage readers (or adults) and the story telling style is far more simplistic than the interweaving perspectives of TearsNovember Blues is still a book that I would  bet on as a sure fire success among uncertain readers.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #18 Tears of a Tiger

This entry marks the last step in my search for books that would fit my students request for “stuff with more DRAMA” (emphasis theirs)

By the end of this last year, after a lot of pondering (and some pretty blunt student responses) I realized that DRAMA meant intense, life-altering events or emotions that revolve around relatable, personal issues.

Sharon M. Draper may be the best provider of DRAMA today. With multiple series and two powerful trilogies, she has managed to create tangible communities that captivate young readers. In the process she’s racked up awards, becoming a perennial favorite for Coretta Scott King awards

Tears of a Tiger offers a DRAMAtic story through a hodgepodge of sources. Letters, English class assignments, phone calls and newspaper articles, each take a turn in telling the story of a young athlete named Andrew Jackson, whose drunk driving accident killed teammate and friend Robert Washington. His friends look on as Andrew attempts to control himself and cope with his grief, but a culture of stoic silence allows emotions to boil up just behind the words we read until another explosion is bound to occur.

As a protagonist, Andy shows a quiet depth to his friends and remains somewhat unknowable even to the readers. He doesn’t want to come out and emote all over the page with his angst and sorrow, but a practiced eye can see his problems and connect. The unique style of storytelling gives readers a number of ways into each character’s emotions. Without devolving into maudlin monologues, the author sets up the character’s feelings and uses familiar “teenager lingo” to communicate the plot. All this enables Draper to spin our focus off of “imagery” or “figurative language” and back to issues of depression, alcohol abuse, as well as the social pressures and expectations placed upon young black men.

There are times when Tears of a Tiger‘s concentration on “teenager lingo”and abandonment of typical novel imagery work against it (especially since the teenager lingo in question dates back to 1994). The style of writing is a nice contrast with typical English books, but doesn’t seem to provide the same rigor that other books might. Impressed as I am with Draper’s thematic work and creation of DRAMA, I may keep looking for more complex texts to include in the curriculum.

The ScruffyRube’s #CBR4 Review #12 The Kayla Chronicles

You can read this as part of my summer long “Quest for Curricular Satisfaction”–and learn everything you never wanted to know about how a teacher chooses his English class curriculum–at my blog.

It’s a sad stereotype that girls are readers while boys are doers. That has not always been my experience, plenty of my male students lug fiction in the crook of their arm, and plenty of girls tell me that they can’t possibly read between basketball and hockey practices. So The Kayla Chronicles seemed like a genuine possibility for some of my more reluctant female readers (especially since so many revel in the world of cheering and dance team-membership that provides a focal point for the story), but I’m not quite sure what it would be for the boys.

Author Sherri Winston gives a convincing, if formulaic, story of a shy girl coming into her own. In a few pages practiced readers of young adult fiction can pick up on some of the major conflicts and plot points that will percolate throughout the story. There’s not much that sets the story apart: generations, families, friendships, the tension between popularity and tradition, between athletics and academics; everything you’ve come to know and love (or at least expect) in youth fiction.

But where Winston (and The Kayla Chronicles) stands out is in the creative application and analysis of feminist perspectives. Rather than settling for a standard coming-of-age narrative, she weaves a debate about the nature of feminism through a few carefully chosen character. I can see a lot of merit in using a story about maturity to show the development of a personal philosophy as much as the development of an individual’s personality. Winston deserves plenty of credit for tackling such issues regardless of the expectations that come along with the young adult genre, even if other parts of the book are firmly focused on meeting those expectations.

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