Monday, December 4, 2017

Ponder Post: Finding Our Forever

Finding Our Forever ©2017 is the first of three novels in the Silver Springs Series by Brenda Novak. The second was No One But You ©2017 (post for 11/10/17) and the third was Until You Loved Me ©2017 (post for 11/2/17). I read them in reverse order but it made no difference. Their commonality was only in the location and that the male hero in each had been a student at New Horizons Boy's Ranch.

I chose to locate and read this book only for completion since I had enjoyed the second and third books in the series. My library did not have it so I went to Amazon. Was I ever surprised! Here is where the oddity begins. I surely do not know what was so special about this book but the price was outlandish – over $60 for a paperback! Now I was even more curious. There was an option where could download a Kindle version for $2.99 and read it with a free app on my Mac so that is what I did. Note though, that the cover image is from a hardcopy version. I do not know if it is normal but the kindle version had no cover image – advertising and excerpts from other books, yes, but cover image, no. And, come to think of it, the cover image has no relation to the book at all other than perhaps being out in the country.

I do have a Kindle but prefer not to use it. There is something more visceral to me about holding a book in your hand and turning the pages. I also am leery of taking an electronic device on a plane and running out of charge right at a critical point in the book. But I was proud of my self-propelled advancement into literary technology. I downloaded the book, installed the free kindle app for Macs, and was reading it on the big screen of my computer within a few minutes. Later I noticed that I could read it on my new iPad Pro as well, once I'd launched the new app on it. The iPad was even smart enough to know what page I had been on when reading off the computer screen. My problem of occasionally misplacing a book-in-progress in some unknown location was solved. My computer stays put and it syncs with my wandering iPad. I am not a complete convert, but I can now appreciate some of the advantages of electronic books.

So my experience with acquiring and reading this book was great! The book was only so-so. The plot is that the heroine Cora gets a job as an art teacher at the New Horizon's Boy's Ranch, a private school for troubled boys with behavioral issues due to a history of abuse, neglect, or abject poverty. Aiyana is the director and owner of the ranch. Cora is interviewed and hired by Eli, the eldest adopted son of Aiyana and the ranch manager. Cora was adopted at birth and her ulterior motive for wanting the job is that she has learned through the research of a private investigator she hired that her biological mother is Aiyana. Cora wants to get to know her biological mother better and find out why she was put up for adoption. Aiyana is a good soul, has never married, and has altruistically adopted eight boys who were former residents of the school. Why adopt eight children after giving up your own biological child?

An unintended complication of working at the school is that Cora is attracted to Eli and he to her. They agree to embark on a strictly physical relationship with no emotional strings attached. Well, it is pretty obvious where this will lead. Unlike the subsequent two books in the series, where plot is the main ingredient and the romance adds a bit of spice to the recipe, this book has a main course of sex. Perhaps that is why the sale price was so high. Does sex sell better?  The mystery behind the reason for Cora being put up for adoption is secondary. Truthfully, if I had read this book first, I probably would not have sought out the second and third in the series. I give Finding Our Forever three stars because it was not a total waste of time. Without pursuing it, I never would have learned about the kindle app, the benefits of electronic books, and – um – a few other things. And I thought a Brazilian was just a citizen of a South American country...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ponder Post: Wonder and 365 Days More

The book Wonder ©2012 by R. J. Palacio is the fictional story of a 10 year old boy, August Pullman, with craniofacial abnormalities stemming from birth due to a mutation in his DNA. Technically, he reveals his diagnosis as mandibulofacial dysostosis, which is more commonly known as Treacher Collins Syndrome but the book does not dwell at all on the medical or the details of how his face looks. It is about the dynamics of the social and academic life experiences of a child who looks drastically different from his peers. Up to this point, Auggie had been homeschooled, not because of his appearance, but because of the many surgeries and medical procedures that precluded him maintaining a regimented school schedule with the requisite attendance minimum. Middle school can be tough enough but having to experience it with the disadvantage of highly distorted facial features is exceptionally challenging.

The front flap of the book jacket describes Wonder as "a funny, uplifting, and incredibly moving novel to read in one sitting". It was correct on all adjectives and I read the entire book yesterday. I loved it! I would rate it ★★★★★. The realities of blending in, loneliness, peer pressure, cliques, popularity, snipes, snitching, loyalty, betrayal, stoicism are portrayed vividly with striking accuracy through the voices of middle school age and high school age adolescents. The roles of the adults – parents, teachers and principal – are not heavy handed and are well represented, even though they are never relayed in first person voice. Wonder has recently been made into a major motion picture that I have yet to see, so I am pleased I was able to read the book before seeing the movie. Book before movie is always my preference.

Each chapter in Wonder is written in the voice of one of the adolescent characters. I thought R. J. Palacio's chapter voice technique was a excellent approach to conveying an alternate point of view on a situation.
  • Part 1     August himself
  • Part 2     Via, August's sister Olivia
  • Part 3     Summer, one of August classmates
  • Part 4     Jack, one of August's classmates
  • Part 5     Justin, Olivia's boyfriend
  • Part 6     August again
  • Part 7     Miranda, a childhood friend of Olivia
The book opens with the story of August's birth, jumps to a debate between his mom and dad on whether or not to mainstream him into the school, and then addresses Auggie's fear, reluctance, resistance, and eventual acquiescence to attend a private prep school. He is given a school tour just before the academic year begins and meets his first group of classmates - some good, some not so good. In his first day of class, Auggie's English teacher Mr. Browne writes a precept on the board, which he does at the beginning of each month, and assigns the students to write an essay on it and discuss it. His first precept did give me pause to think, nod, and smile a bit.

In Part 1, where Wonder is told in the voice of Auggie, he thinks to himself, "As I wrote down Mr. Browne’s September precept, I suddenly realized that I was going to like school. No matter what." I do not know if Mr. Browne's precept choice for September was chance, but the quote also gave me a bit of foreboding about what was to come for Auggie. The book continues on to tell the tale of the fifth grade year up through a spring camping experience and on to graduation in June. The happy, the sad, the brave, the nasty, the guilty and remorseful emotions are so real they bring back those almost forgotten but now remembered school years of myself and those of my kids, whatever information about them they ever divulged to me. A lot of these feelings were echoed in Mr. Browne's precepts for the other months.

When I went to to snag a cover photo for this post, I noted that there were other books associated with Wonder. There is no sequel. The author herself states that Wonder does not lend itself to a sequel. The reader is left to surmise on his own how Auggie will fair in life. There was another book titled Auggie and Me that tells the story from the point of view of three other classmates during that fifth grade year. I am waiting on that one from my local library and am anticipating it too will be enjoyable. What I did download onto my Mac to read with my Kindle app however was 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Precepts ©2014 also by R. J. Palacio. I read it today; it was a quick read.

Normally I buy my books from Amazon or Costco or check them out of the library. This book I thought would be more like one of those cube calendars that sits on your desk and you remove one page a day to reveal a new vocabulary word, do a crossword puzzle, chuckle at a joke, or learn a bit of trivia. In reality I almost always forget to do that daily, and wind up tearing off a ¼" to ½" chunk at a time to catch up. With a Kindle version of this book on my computer I could whiz through several precepts at once and bookmark those that inspired me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that between each month of precepts was a correspondence between Mr. Browne the English teacher and one of his fifth grade students that was concurrent with August. It was a fun bonus to read a postcard or an email or a letter and get a bit more insight into those characters presented in the Wonder novel. I imagine, even more so, what a treat for a teacher to hear from previous students! Teachers out there reading Wonder will not want to miss also reading this associated book. I would rate it five stars for the correspondence portions since they were so satisfying after reading Wonder, but about three stars for the precepts, for an average of four stars. One of the included precepts was:

I researched Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, source of the "choose kind" quote that was Mr Browne's September precept, and Dr. Dyer is a self-help author and motivational speaker whose book Your Erroneous Zone ©1976 is one of the best-selling books of all time, with an estimated 35 million copies sold to date. This figure is more than Gone with the Wind. To reveal my ignorance, I'd never heard of Your Erroneous Zone but, inspired by the above precept, I plan to find out about it.