“Absolutely Almost” by Lisa Graff

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This book hit me in the gut. The main character Augie, is completely average. In fact, most of the time he is below average.

The book explains his struggles relating to his parents’ high expectations. There are positive influences such as a babysitter, and a math teacher, who accept him for who he is without trying to push him to be someone else.

Lisa Graff really gets into Augie’s head, and helps the reader feel for his situation. You understand his perspective, and how aware he is that he isn’t living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams.

As a reader, I hoped that Augie would find out that he had some awesome talent, like guitar playing, or art, or robot-building. But this never happens. Instead, Graff lets Augie stay as he is… average.

As such, the reader is presented with a challenge. Can they accept Augie as he is?

Often, part of the charm of reading a book is relating to a super cool main character, who can totally take on the impossible and be the chosen one. You know. Luke use the force.

This book challenges that concept. Augie as a character demonstrated to me that everyone deserves kindness and that everyone is born with the same amount of worth as everyone else.

Beautiful message.

 

“The Boy’s Manual to being a Proper Jew” by Eli Glasman

This book deals with religion and sexuality in a painfully honest, nothing held back kind of way. Even though the narrative follows Yossi, gay Jewish boy living in Melbourne, and how he reconciles the restrictiveness of his religion with accepting his sexuality, this book is far from regional Australian fiction. “The Boy’s Manual…” leads to universal questions:

Why does religion often spread hate instead of love?

Why is God so concerned with who you love instead of what kind of person you are and how you treat other people? Homosexuality seems a rather pale sin in comparison with discrimination and exclusion.

Why are religious institutions so set on shaming people for genetic traits they cannot control?

How does practicing the religion in question deviate from the relevant religious texts?

If you deviate from your culture, will you still be supported by your friends and family? What is the cost of being yourself? Do the benefits outweigh these costs?

Needless to say, this book really made me think. In a good way.

As someone who attended a big gay United Church as a teenager, I have seen many facets to religion. I have seen a gay minister ordained and a lesbian couple have their son baptized. However, I also have seen a university Christian group refuse to answer publicly their stance on homosexuality. They insisted that the student contact them privately – no doubt because they weren’t accepting.

It’s funny, because religion creates a sort of paradox. By being part of a religion you are necessarily separating yourself from others, even if the goal of the religion is to treat others well. Can an religious institution ever be fully inclusive and still be classified as practicing that religion?

I’m not sure. But I know you don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.

 

Thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

Let me tell you about my Harry Potter activities of the past year:

1) I attended a Harry Potter party that coincided with the beginning of the school year at my local library. There was a wide range of ages from students of Hogwarts to Alumni. We drank butter beer (caramel soda with syrup and ice-cream), made crafts (wands, spell books and tote bags), and watched a local improv comedy group preform themed skits.

2) I read “Beedles the Bard,” the collection of Wizard Fairytales written by JK Rowling.

3) I listened to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on audio book. Let’s just say that Voldermort still scares the crap out of me. I barely slept the night after listening to the final chapter. Funny how my bathrobe on the back of my chair looks exactly like Voldermort with the lights out. Oh my god.

4) Sometimes I wear a Ravenclaw pin on my button-down shirt. I know it’s more trendy to be Hufflepuff or Slytherin, or some weird combo like Griffinpuff, but. I just can’t. I’m a Ravenclaw thorough and thorough.

5) I’m rewatching Harry Potter movies 4 (Daniel Radcliffe has the best hair in this one), and 7 parts 1 and 2 just for the feels.

I tell you guys. The magic’s still going strong even with the muggles.

But I wanted to talk about another item on the list entirely.

5) I read the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Yep. I did it. Out of peer pressure from my YA book club.

Harry Potter has always been a franchise, but this latest creation really demonstrated how low it could go. People tell me “Scorpius! Such an original character!”

I say, “Puh-lease. The whole thing’s a rehash of book 4.” (And I just listened to book four, so I know.)

It didn’t knock me off my broomstick to say the least. And I was disappointed. Very disappointed.

There were so many directions the play could’ve gone in. A whole new year at Hogwarts, a whole new threat to conquer, a whole new cast of characters that didn’t involve the golden trio. And some of this happened, but it wasn’t exploited to the fullest extent. Instead, the writers relied on one thing above all others: fan service.

Fans want more official Potter in any shape or form. It doesn’t matter about the quality, it just matters that it exists. It doesn’t matter how many times people joke about Voldermort’s lack of a nose. It’s still funny… or is it?

Let me just say it: Watching Harry, Ron and Hermione in office jobs with greying hair, parenting problems, and developing guts is not magical. It’s *bloody* depressing.

“But they’re just like us!” You cry. “There’s nothing wrong with offices, aging, parenting, and obesity!”

No, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I like Harry Potter to stand for hope. For light in the midst of darkness, for extraordinary among the mundane. And to see the hero of my youth reduced to someone more muggle than wizard, that was very depressing indeed.

As for the plot involving the kids, it was a tired rendition of the plot from the fourth book. Bringing the threat of Voldermort back in the running killed the satisfaction of the seventh book’s resolution. Can’t there be other dark wizards? Must we always rely on Voldermort? Why can’t Voldermort stay dead where he belongs?

Harry Potter is the Iliad and Odyssey of our time. We know the myths inside and out. We don’t need a rehash, because the original work is timeless onto itself.

 

 

“The Thickety: A Path Begins” by JA White

This is one of these books that changed my entire approach to writing. (Hi, I’m a writer by the way.) “The Thickety” is just brimming with amazing technique. So, here’s what JA White can do:

1) How he introduces his characters. The sentences containing their description are instantly memorable and contain at least one trait that the reader can pick up on and is carried throughout the book (Grace’s ribbon). However, this isn’t what makes it brilliant. The scene introducing the character demonstrates their qualities immediately. You don’t have to guess that Grace is a massive villain because she shows it to you. She prevents the main character from getting medication for her brother in the first scene. What a jerk.

2) The mood and atmosphere is seriously creepy and is maintained throughout the book. The living forest, the paranoid town, the loneliness of the main character, the nethergrim, the addictiveness of spells. I couldn’t sleep after reading this thing. Which may make some people go: this is middle grade? Yes. This pushes the boundaries of horror in middle grade, but seriously, I think kids can handle it. Do you see what’s on TV these days? And lots of children’s classics are scary. Joan Aiken. I loved Joan Aiken when I was smaller and somehow I don’t think it affected me as much then as it does now.

3) The beginning and the ending have serious symmetry. This is honestly what takes this book to masterpiece level. Too often the ending of a book isn’t well-thought out and kills the entire work. Not here. The ending shocked me, yet made so much sense. The entire book had been pushing for this ending so hard that no other ending would’ve worked. Once you read it, you’re like “Oh my god, what? Oh. Of course.”

4) The writing style is very clear. Enough variation in sentence length keeps things interesting. JA White taught me that a two word sentence is okay after some longer sentences and adds colour to a manuscript.

Anyway, even if you’re not a writer this book is a seriously good read. Read it!

But do yourself a favour and keep the lights on.