‘Sisters in Sanity’ was an unexpected, beautifully titled little gift. I had craved a familiar read the other night and found myself adding ‘Where She Went’ by Gayle Forman to my reread shelf on Goodreads. While there I noticed this title, a fiction publication of hers that I had previously not read. I couldn’t sleep, I had wi-fi and next thing you know, I’m immersed in the book and ‘couldn’t sleep’ became ‘not sleeping due to reading’.
‘Sisters in Sanity’ is told by Brit, a sixteen year old who loves playing with her band and has a free (and kind) spirit. When she was a child, her parents were free spirits, running a coffee shop in Seattle. She can say she coloured with Kurt Cobain, had did book studies with a tattoo artist named Reggie and held court from her reserved table with the musicians and artists who filled her childhood world. Her parents met at a U2 concert: Dad was a roadie, Mom was an audience member who was pulled on stage to dance with Bono. Their artistic spirits extended to their parenting – they would and did go on adventures with Brit, like running away for a month to live on the beach or simply making meals with all purple food. Her mom was the instigator of most of these adventures – dad was the doctor appointment making, lunch packing solid parent. Mom was always freer with her thoughts and feelings. Until one day – as this freeness became oddness and the oddness became paranoia and the paranoia became paranoid schizophrenia – Mom was no longer there. She left them and lived apart with her disease, shattering their family, closing down their coffee shop and leaving Brit without her mother.
Eventually Dad divorces Mom, marries ‘Stepmonster’ and has another child. And Brit – magenta streaked hair, punk rock Brit – is left feeling alone and underappreciated in her family. Told by her father she can’t stay home by herself during a family trip to the grand canyon, she and her dad take a road trip, with the thought that Stepmonster and her half brother will join them. Instead, dad drops Brit at Red Rocks, a teen rehab facility, supposedly to help her be more friendly and open with her new family.
What he doesn’t realize is that he is dropping Brit at not a rehab but a boot camp. Run by Sherrif and Clayton, as well as other pseudo psychologists and professionals, girls are brought there by their families – or taken from their homes by “escorts’ from the camp hired by their families – and put through rigorous activities and demeaning therapies all in the name of healing them. Girls are there because of their sexuality, because of their eating habits, because they don’t quite fit and their parents want a quick fix. If you’re an insurance case, you’re magically progressed through the levels from one to six in three months (the maximum time insurance will pay). If not, you’re there until you make your way through the levels and fully accept yourself as the flawed and messed up person that you are.
Brit is in shock – she may not have wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but she didn’t want to be there! She doesn’t see anything wrong with her lifestyle. Luckily she meets the titular sisters – the rebellious V, Bebe the sex crazed daughter of a fading star, Cassie the lesbian from Texas and Martha, the overweight former beauty queen. They come together during quarry duty – moving rocks from one place to another – and begin to meet at night to support each other through their incarceration. While their friendship does not always run smoothly, they are there for each other, through thick and thin, breakouts and breakdowns. As they try to fight the powers that placed them into this place, they learn more about who they are and what they can mean to each other.
This book was a wonderful view of relationships and friendships. It made me appreciate the relationships I had as a teen with my parents – no matter how challenging I was, I was never placed in a facility such as Red Rock. But it also made me look at friendships and the power that they have to help a person endure trying times. Each girl is a bit of a stereotype and plays to that, yet each one fills a place in the ‘Sisters’.
If I had a critique of ‘Sisters in Sanity’, it would be that it’s unbelievable. Yet, the sad truth is that places such as Red Rock do exist. There are kids ripped from their beds or tricked into going to places where they will be reprogrammed into “good” children. Some of them, like Brit, are in a situation where they are true to how they are raised, it’s just the people doing the raising changed. Others, like her friends, are in situations that overwhelm their parents. Very few of them – if any – need to be there as much as their parents need to put them there. In terms of a discussion piece, this particular book could open discussions on the existence of these places and their purpose.
This book was a great find. I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to other Gayle Forman fans as well as those looking for a ‘Ripped from the Headlines” tale of woe and friendship. I read it on September 15th on my Kobo. ISBN is 9780060887476.
Almost anytime I assign a novel, I get asked ‘Miss, is there a movie for this?’. Often, these days, given our use of popular literature and the movie industry tendency to make books of popular literature, the answer is yes. Yes, there is a movie. Yes, we can go see it (if it’s coming out now). Yes, I have seen it. Yes, we are watching it in class.
Because yes. I will show the movie in class. Now, that might seem like an easy lesson plan – show a movie for three or four classes. And, well, it means I’m not talking as much, which is, perhaps, easier for everyone. But it’s got a purpose. By showing the movie, I’m presenting a world to students, a world though up by others based on the same material they read. I’m presenting to them a visual of a text, a visual that may or may not line up with the visual they created for themselves. It’s always interesting hearing the reactions of kids as they see how characters are presented, especially if they really liked the book.
I often start with the movie – I don’t treat it as a reward, I treat it as part of the learning. Sometimes that will depend on the adaptation of the movie – I will start a novel study with ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent’, but I’ll finish ‘A Christmas Carol’ with the Muppets singing their way though that classic tale. In some ways, even if it’s worst case scenario, knowing the students at least know the story (from watching the movie). In other cases, it’s a chance to see who has connected with the novel. There are students who get quite offended if the movie doesn’t portray their favourites in the right way. There are others who don’t like how the setting they imagined is portrayed. Others notice their favourite parts are changed or left out and exclaim on their disappointment. It’s beautiful to watch their reactions, hear their conversation and talk with them about the edits they would make. Someone took the exact same book you read and made it into a visual – do you agree with what they did or not?
There is always the worry about students not reading the book, instead relying on the movie to teach them the story. And it’s true, that happens. That always has happened, as long as there have been movies based on books. Or Coles notes based on books. Or a kid in the class that reads the book and doesn’t mind telling others the storyline. I’m upfront and tell kids when I’ve seen a movie. They know I will go see movies as soon as they come out if I can. I tell them they may even might get questions asking the differences between the movie and the book. They are told that just knowing the movie will not be useful – and most realize that putting in the work to understand the differences between both without reading the book is a little much. Some try, this I know, but most give it away, in their answers or even in casual conversation that they then support in their answers. It’s hard than you think to pretend you’ve read a book and much easier to just read the darn thing.
Movies are a beautiful thing and there are people out there reading the books and then making them into masterpieces. Enjoy, critique and compare to the visuals in your imagination.
In summary, may I present the inspiration for this blog: the Mockingjay Part One Trailer.
I use Kobo for a lot of my e-reading. However, sometimes I realize that I am spending all kinds of money on ebooks. Sometimes lots of money, money that could go elsewhere. Plus, I like supporting librarians and libraries (seeing as I spent so much time as a librarian and in a library). So I use ‘Overdrive’, an app that allows me to check out books from the public library as ebooks. It’s quick, easy and all I need is a library card from my public library.
Once you set up the library in the app (you choose the library you want to access, theoretically, if you have access to a number of libraries that use overdrive, you could choose from them all). You can choose your category (fiction, non fiction, teen fiction, etc) and then see what there is to check out. You can choose to see just what’s available now, if you’re looking for something to read now, or you can see all that’s being offered, if you’re looking for something specific. You can also search for a specific title or author. In addition, overdrive will feature their most popular titles on the front page, as well as popular titles in specific categories.
I find I usually go into the teen fiction section. Then I choose to look at available titles only and pick some books that I wouldn’t have thought of. This means that I get to read books that I may not have thought of had I relied on just Kobo. I select the title and then choose borrow (I can also choose sample, more or wishlist). If I chose sample, I would have been brought to a sample of the book,
Checking out books
more takes me to a description of the book with the opportunity to choose all those items and wishlist adds the book to a list that overdrive keeps of wishes of mine. Once I choose checkout, I’m taken to a page to type in my library card number and my PIN. You need to set those up through your public library. Then, when that info is in, you choose to down load the book to read in your browser and boom! You have a book borrowed from the library for 14 days. Yay!
But what if they list the book you want but someone else has it? Those cads! You can put it on hold. Essentially, where it normally says borrow you can choose to put it on hold. You put in your e-mail address and overdrive will e-mail you when the book is ready. You have to check it out fairly quickly or you lose your claim on the file. So, this won’t work if you already have your limit on books checked out. But it does work if you want a book and are willing to wait for it – and return other books if it means having space to check that one out.
You can play with the settings and chance your checkout times from 7 to 14 days. You can check out pdfs, ebooks and audio books. You can read the books in the app. If you don’t return the book, it returns automatically. It’s all fantastic.
Well, except for one point. Publishers do not always make books available to libraries and overdrive. Their fear is that they’ll lose out on money as you don’t need to replace ebooks. At times, they’ll make it so an ebook can be checked out a limited amount of times, but most others make it so that their books are not available. Not cool publishers. Not cool. So, if there’s a book you really want to eread and the library doesn’t have it (to borrow or to put on hold), you may just have to buy it. However, if it has the books you want, overdrive is a great alternative to spending the money and helps you support your local library while you do it! Win-win-win!
The images of overdrive were taken on my ipad. I use the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Library (NLPL) as my library of choice.
This week I’d like to review a book I read a few months ago. It was a book with a concept that I found fascinating – ‘Dear Killer’ by Katherine Ewell. The premise is thus: Kit receives letters addressed ‘Dear Killer’. Each one requests that she murder a specific person and gives the reasons behind the request. She then decides who to kill and when she does, leaves a letter with the body. A prolific serial killer operating on her own societal standards. Well, the standards of her mother , the original ‘Dear Killer’ and the person training Kit. Murder is the only way of life Kit has ever known and the only way of relating to others her mother has taught her.
The rules are simple (taken from the book):
Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.
Kit lives by these rules and others die by them. She gets paid to do this by the letter writers and essentially sees it as a service she’s doing, one that fits her nihilistic morals. But then, things get complicated, the rules don’t fit and Kit has to examine what she’s doing and how she feels about this turn of events.
I have to say that I found this concept a very interesting one. What do we learn from our family and what do we learn from society? When do we begin to fill a role because it’s expected vs filling the role because it’s what we’ve chosen. All of the relationships in this novel center around Kit and her role as killer. The reader is left wondering what would be happening in her relationships if she wasn’t so stuck in her world – if she had not be brought up to be a trained killer, who could and would she be? On a side note, it’s interesting to see a female character who kicks such butt in a realistic world (eg, non dystopian).
I found the service she provides fascinating. I don’t think I’d ever be in the position to request some kind of serial killer, but the fact that there are people so desperate they would request someone in their life to be killed was intriguing. The way Ewell builds the world, it seems totally believable that this could happen – that the services of an anonymous serial killer could be requested so often and for so long – a multi generational dear killer family.
This book is not for everyone. I have recommended it to students who tell me they like books about killers, crime and that fall a little more into the thriller genre.
I read this book on my kobo on April 4th, 2014. It was published by Katherine Tegan Books on April 1st, 2014. The ISBN is 9780062257802.