Sunday, September 26, 2010

'A Northern Light' by Jennifer Donnelly

In my quest to purchase individual titles for my classroom library, author Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light kept popping up as a recommendation. Winner of The Carnegie Medal, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, 'A Northern Light' needn't earn my seal of approval to be deemed a worthy teen read, yet I was eager to put my two cents in to the pot! I love turn-of-the-century novels and devoured the book in the car ride to and from Dallas.

After the death of her mother, Mattie, the eldest Gokey daughter is expected to help her father run the family farm. Not an easy task in itself, never mind the three younger sisters she must also tend to and manage. Burdened with the workload of the farm and her family, Mattie's dream of going to college in New York City at Barnard College seems impossible. That is, until her charismatic and feminist teacher Miss Wilcox enables Mattie to land a full scholarship by submitting Mattie's short stories to the college admissions board. However, Mattie still refuses to believe that obtaining her dream is possible, especially when at every turn someone is telling her that women do not belong in college and that an education is worthless and a waste of resources and precious time.

"It's not pride I'm feeling. It's another sin. Worse than all the other ones, which are immediate, violent and hot. This one sits inside you quietly and eats you from the inside out like the trichina worms the pigs get. It's the Eight Deadly Sin. The one God left out.

Eager to earn money for college and to help her family's struggling farm, Mattie takes a summer
job at the Glenmore - where she meets hotel guest Grace Brown, whose only interaction with Mattie is to ask her to burn a bundle of letters to her lover. After Grace's lifeless body is fished from the waters surrounding the Glenmore, Mattie hesitantly begins reading the letters that not only foreshadow Grace's demise, but oddly parallel the taxing life decisions Mattie is refusing to face.
Jennifer Donnelly and her gift for character development is remarkable. Even characters that only exist in Mattie Gokey's memories are exquisite. In her longing for her mother who died of breast cancer only a year before, was so easy for me (or anyone who has endured the hell that is cancer) to identify with Mattie's pain and suffering.
“I remembered her singing as she cooked. And standing downstairs in the root cellar in November, smiling at all the food she'd put up. I remember how she made us fancy braided hairdos and how she trudged through the winter fields on snowshoes to bring Emmie Hubbard's kids a pot of stew. I tried very hard to remember only the good things about my mama. To remember her the way she was before she got sick. I wished I could cut the rest out of me the way the doctor tried to cut the cancer out of her, but I couldn't. No matter how hard I struggled to keep my last images of her at bay, they came anyway."

Mattie's memories of her mother and the warmth that her house once shared are palatable...I feel as if I know Mattie's mother, and her father is just as well-developed. Her sisters, friends, uncles, teacher, neighbors - each are critical pieces to the development of the plot and are so rich and dimensional, I would readily a novel written from the perspectives of each.
The murder-mystery surrounding Grace Brown is actually the least interesting sub-plot binding this novel together; this statement is meant as a complement to Donnely's writing. She's developed a cast of characters whose ordinary lives and struggles are just as gut-wrenching and page-turning as an action-packed murder mystery.

I loved, loved, loved the ending and how the plot was parceled neatly its well-wrapped package. Endings that tie to the beginnings always do me in...I love the small revelations I have during the moments after the last line of such books are read. Jennifer Donnelly did that for me, and that's why I'm giving this book a ten out ten stars and an exuberant "thumbs up".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Katniss Everdeen: Leading Lady in Teen Fiction

Image by:

© 2010 skellingt0n: Fan imagining of a
The Hunger Games movie poster (DeviantArt)

Isn't this fan-made movie poster AWESOME??? Notice how Katniss and I are mirroring poses in my costume pic. Ha!

If you've frequented my blog, you know that all things concerning The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins dominates most of my posts. I can't help it. I LOVE the book and series, and I'm estatic that I can teach the novel to my junior high students! Today in class we were discussing Katniss and her character traits, and I off-handedly mentioned that she was my favorite female character in teen fiction. My students didn't miss a beat and decided to turn the tables on their teacher, asking, "What makes Katniss your favorite?" Here's a David Letterman-style top ten list detailing why Miss Everdeen is beating out her teen ficiton counterparts for Top Teen Heroine (in my mind):
*drumroll, please...............*

10. She's a bad Mamma-Jamma. Do you want to mess with a chick who can shoot a squirrel through its eye from fifty meters away? I think not.

9. She can sleep in a tree. Who can do that? Seriously?

8. Raw rabbit meat and pine bark: it's whats for dinner!

7. She is literally "The Girl on Fire".

6. Boys do not define her - they fight over her! (And...they are HOT BOYS...who bake...and kill things. ;)

5. Haymitch is her homeboy.

4. She refrains from punching Effie in the face throughout the duration of the trilogy.

3. Pig. Apple. Arrow. 'Nuff said!

2. Peeta loves her. I love what Peeta loves!

1. She could kick the snot out of Bella Swan. (We know I love Twilight, but you have to admit, Bella is one whiney chick!)

Picture by graysee at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"YOU Cast THE HUNGER GAMES"...Does E.W. Read My Blog?

It's very egotistical of me to think that, but it could happen...right? After coming across this article in Entertainment Weekly, I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the actors and actresses that we've been discussing (errrr, DEBATING! ) gracing the pages of my favorite magazine. For a chance to vote on your pick, click on the picture below. The article is VERY interesting for those of you who are as invested in this series as much as I am!
According to Entertainment Weekly, here are their top contenders for the main roles in the flilm...


Kaya Scodelario (39% of the vote)
Best Known For: Britain's Skins, Clash of the Titans

Alexandra Daddario (19%)
Best known for: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Hunter Parrish (40%)
Best Known For: Weeds

Alex Pettyfer (22%)
Best Known For: 2011's Beastly


Gaspard Ulliel (40%)
Best Known For: playing the young Hannibal Lector in Hannibal Rising

Drew Roy (38%)
Best Known For: iCarly, Hannah Montana


Kristen Chenoweth (51%)
Best Known For: Pushing Daisies, Broadway's Wicked

Emily Blunt (15%)
Best Known For: The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria


Hugh Laurie (37%)

Best Known For: House

Robert Downey Jr. (36%)

Best Known For: Iron Man

Alli Shearmur from Lionsgate is listening to the fans and is quoted in the article as saying that "some of the actresses who fans have identified as the best potential Katniss are being considered." Smart move,Lionsgate! Movie makers should know how opinionated and passionate fans of a book can be when their beloved characters are going to be projected onto the big screen. Here's to hoping they make the right choice...we can't find out the official cast list soon enough!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Robert Pattinson in Lubbock, TX...and I Missed It

The events from the morning of Tuesday, September 7th will be forever seared into my memory. No, a relative didn't die and I didn't win any money. Babies weren't born and promotions weren't given. You would think that a memorable morning would consist of one of these life-changing events, but my memorable morning consisted of me MISSING ROBERT PATTINSON ON MY FREAKIN' DOORSTEP. Okay, so I'm dipping into my hyperbole pool, but I did practically miss the only chance I will ever have to see The Precious in the flesh. Let me break down this soul-crushing morning for you:

1. I wake up on Tuesday morning at 6:00am, ready to start back to work after a long weekend. Boo.
2. Pour myself a cup of joe and play with my phone while I wait for the sweet nectar that is my morning cup to take effect.
3. I quickly see that blasted red bubble alerting me to the fact that I have 800 missed calls and 1000 missed texts...okay, more exaggeration, but I had a crap-ton of ignored calls and texts.
4. Assuming that either A.) a loved one has died, or B.) I've forgotten to do or be somewhere really important. I click on my missed texts first.
5. Text from my friend that reads: "Um. Robert Pattinson is here. Like, HERE. IN LUBBOCK. RIGHT NOW. ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE. HERE. IN. LUBBOCK. CALL ME!"
6. I nearly drop my cup of coffee in the process of scrambling to read the rest of my texts and listen to my voicemails - and (to my horror) all confirm the first text. I still didn't believe it.
7. Thinking that my friends have a sick and twisted sense of humor, I do what any of us would do in this situation and get on Facebook to check the validity of said texts/voicemails.
8. I find more pleas and entreaties for me to get out of bed and get my ass to Crickets Bar & Grill, a college sports bar near Texas Tech University across town...AS IN THE TOWN WHERE I CURRENTLY RESIDE.
9. I then find these pictures taken by my friend's camera phone and other phones in the vicinity:
This first picture I see is so grainy, I almost breathe a sigh of relief. It can't be RPatz. It's more likely Jesus enjoying a beer in a Lubbock bar, than the likes of Robert Pattinson, right? At least that's what I continued to tell myself until I saw these beautiful images...
The sexy smirk. The rumpled shirt. The insane beard that is hiding my jaw porn...yep, it's The Precious.
How can someone be sexy while texting? Robert Pattinson can!

Holy cow! Like a knife to the heart! In a bar mere miles from my home! Oh, why can't I be drinking on a random Monday evening? Curse you, husband, children and career! ;)

Lucky hoochies. And to quote Tessie Hutchinson, "It isn't fair! It isn't right"...and then, they were upon her.

This experience proves to me that God has a sick sense of humor. Why in the world would he send the only celebrity who actually causes me to swoon to my craptastic town? Nothing ever happens in Lubbock! Nothing besides football, drinking, and the occasional City Council that are equal parts boring and in no way pique my interest! The only celebrity we've ever had step foot in our city limits is that blasted Matthew McConaughey, and I can't like him because he's a Longhorn fan. That's against all of the blood oaths I took when I graduated from Texas Tech University. Something like "thou shalt not covet an attractive celebrity who has the audacity to wear a burnt orange leather coat." Honestly. He wears a burnt orange leather coat to Longhorn games. I don't care how attractive you are. It's never good form to insult a cow by dying his poor cowhide burnt orange. Anywhooooo, I digress....

Back to The Precious. Turning off my ringer at night cost me the chance to hang out with my celebrity crush. My husband even felt sorry for me. I would've taken him to a bar to catch a glimpse of Angelina Jolie. She's on his list, just like RPatz is on mine. He understood the horrific feelings of loss I was experiencing and actually offered to take me around town to troll random hotel lobbies in the hopes I would bump in to him. Sweet offer, but I didn't want to miss reporting to work. I was secretly banking on the possibility that Oprah was hiding in my classroom, (cameras ready to surprise me) with Robert Pattinson at her side, eager to tell me what an awesome teacher I am. Unbeknownst to me, (I was praying) some sweet, former student had sent in a request for me (thier favorite teacher) to meet my favorite fictional character; and Oprah, being the sweet lady that she is, read the heart-wrenching profession of educational excellence and came to Lubbock to bestow the gift that is The Precious upon me in person! Whew!

After succumbing to the fact that I missed my one and only chance to meet such a lovely hunk of man, I quizzed my friend who was able to make it into Cricket's Bar & Grill before the wolves descended. I asked him how Rob behaved in the bar...could you smell him? Was he as dreamy in person as he is in front of the camera? Here is the short q & a with my buddy, who was able to live the dream for me - if only for a few minutes:

Me: Was he (Rob) interacting with the people in the bar or keeping to his table of friends? Did you get to actually sit in the bar?

Buddy: He was personable...texted a lot...smiled...laughed when his friends were singing karaoke. Hearty laugh, head thrown back. I was inches from him when he went to the potty.

Me: Did he speak? DETAILS!

Buddy: He nodded and said hello and I almost wet myself. I think I may have giggled.

Me: Oh, heck, I would've! I'm too polite to bother a celebrity. Why?? I wouldn't have had the guts to interrupt his night to ask for a pic or an autograph!

Buddy: Our friend did, but he politely could tell he was just wanting a break, a beer, some laughs, but he smiled and didn't get ornery.

I can picture beautiful Rob, tossing his head back to let loose a hearty laugh. Can't you? I would've even loved to have been his waitress that night, but I can tell those chicks probably annoyed the tar out of him. Check out this video from our local news to confirm my theory here.


No such luck. Sorry I missed you, Rob. Like two ships, passing in the night...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lionsgate and the Katniss Question

Is Chloe Moretz Katniss Everdeen?

The USA Today reported on Wednesday that there is a bit of buzz surrounding the Lionsgate casting of Katniss Everdeen for The Hunger Games movie. Apparently, actress Chloe Moretz is said to be on the top of a very short list for nabbing the role of the tough heroine. Who is Chloe Moretz, you may ask? Her most recent works include Kick-Ass and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Chloe is only 13 years old, and in my humble opinion, looks more like Prim than Katniss, if we are going on looks alone, which I know shouldn't be what gets her the job - looks. I do know for a fact that her acting skills are noteworthy, and Perri Nemiroff gives her a huge thumbs up for the part in his article, "Daring to Dream: Casting 'The Hunger Games' Movie". He makes some great suggestions for our beloved character's parts. Check out his article for more!
If this movie sucks because they can't hold casting auditions and hire an actress that fits the physical traits of the character and can actually act, then I don't want them to even bother with production. (And if I hear Kristen Stewart's name mentioned for this role one more time, I just might hurl. She is NOT Katniss and I don't think anything Twilight-related should be thrust upon this stand-alone series. This article describing the brew-haha around casting/making The Hunger Games movie even goes as far to call THG The Next Twilight. Ugh. Although a great article and interview with producer Nina Jacobson, enough with the Twilight comparisons!) Do your homework, Lionsgate and GET THIS RIGHT.
So... just in case the casting directors of The Hunger Games need a bit of help, let me give them a slew of character traits mentioned in the book. In fact, take out a sheet of paper, directors, and let's make a t-chart for our lovely Ms. Everdeen, shall we? (We do this in my classroom while studying the novel, and it will serve as a valuable exercise for you, too, my dear casting directors.)Notice I even provide you with page numbers to Suzanne Collins's descriptions in the book. THE BOOK should be the golden standard here when referencing traits, shouldn't it? After all, those of us who will be in line with tickets in hand to see your production will be dedicated fans of the series. PLEASE attempt to have some regard and respect for Collins's vision of the character, Katniss Everdeen. This movie will be an epic fail if Katniss is miscast, but no pressure, huh?

In other Hunger Games movie news, the final round of directors are also rumored to be vying to take the helm of this much-anticipated movie. Sara Gundell from reports that David Slade, Gary Ross and Sam Mendes are named as the top three directors for the job. I've obviously heard of David Slade (director of Eclipse) and have enjoyed many Sam Mendes films (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). Ross is behind the film Pleasantville (amongst others), but Pleasantville being the only one I really recognized and a film that is one of my cinema favorites! Surprisingly, I do not have an educated opinion for my Lionsgate friends as to who should be the director. It sounds like the three that are leading the crowd are more than qualified for the job.

So there you have it, Hunger Games fans, a bit of news on the film all of us are chomping at the bit to see...LET'S GET GOING, LIONSGATE! Call me if you need a consultant to quote book passages and such!

Click HERE to vote for The Hunger Games movie cast - a poll created by Entertainment Weekly.