Here's what I read in March.
1. Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Look--don't ask me why I read Every Soul a Star, because I really don't know. I bought a copy of it at the Scholastic book fair back in December, simply because the cover was attractive, it was cheap, and it looked like something my students might want to read. I took it back to my classroom and put in my library.
Whenever kids would come back to pick out a book, I'd always steer them in the direction of this one, saying, "Hey, doesn't this one look good?" After it sat on my shelf for a few months, I finally chucked it into my briefcase and decided to take it home with me. It seemed an appropriate antidote to The Witches of Eastwick.
Every Soul a Star is a wonderful middle-grade novel. The narrative centers around a full solar eclipse and a small collection of stargazers who are drawn to a campground in the middle of the American west to witness it. Along the way come three teenagers, each with his or her eccentricities and secrets. In the end, as you might imagine, they mature and become irreplaceable friends.
I almost never read young adult literature, so it's hard for me to make good assessments of books like Every Soul a Star. But I will say that I was impressed most with the way Mass refused to talk down to her readers. The epigram from Plato's Timaeus established that this book was going to cover some serious material, and it did so without being condescending. I learned a thing or two about stargazing, the phenomenon of an eclipse, and what I might see in the night sky tonight. After finishing the book, I made plans to take my children to see the next full solar eclipse in the United States, in August of 2017. (The author has included a helpful appendix.)
So read this book! It's charming and informative, and you can share it with a young person in your life.
(In the days since I've read this book, and written the blog about it, I've been able to track and enjoy the planetary conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. I look for them every night and have followed them as they came together in spectacular fashion, and then started drifting apart. Wonderful.)
2. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Andrew Turnbull
Spring means two things here in Mr. Brame's class--reading The Great Gatsby, and taking the ACT test. This year the two came together in an unexpected way. When this book turned up in my pile of donated books (which is where I've been doing most of my book-shopping these days), I decided to give it a shot. I am not a big reader of literary biographies, though I know I should know more about the authors that I teach.
Scott Fitzgerald, by Andrew Turnbull was well-researched, thoughtful, and quickly paced. After getting about a hundred pages into it, I realized that I already had a pretty good understanding of Fitzgerald's life. I expected a huge ego and unbridled ambition. I expected embarrassing tales of public drunkenness and excess. I expected a sad end to a meteoric beginning. And I got all of these.
There were some surprises though. It came as a surprise to me just how unhinged Zelda became. Some of the stories of his and Zelda's drunken exploits were so embarrassing and sad that it's a wonder there is now such a cult of idealism surrounding them. Also, I didn't realize that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were such intimates. (I always imagined them bumping into one another in a bar on the Seine in 1925, sharing a drink, and inspiring a million fantasies by romantically-minded readers. But they were close friends for a time and bitter ex-friends for even longer.)
Finally, I was surprised by how large a part football played in young Scott's ambitions. He played running back and had a second-string quarterback position for a while, and the write up of one of his games credit's Fitzgerald's "snap and bang runs." (Turnbull) He was too scrawny for the sport, though, and turned to his second love of writing. As a former skinny kid who had his athletic aspirations crushed, I sympathized.
I was finishing the book while proctoring the ACT test for my students. Now, if you have never administered the ACT, you must know that it is not a day off! In fact, it's the most tedious, excruciating three and a half hours you will ever spend in your life. You're not supposed to read, be on the computer, check your phone, or do anything other than walk around and monitor your students, and there are dire consequence for anyone who does. There is intense pressure on teachers to stand there and watch kids take a test. Nowhere in my life have I experienced such enforced boredom, and just about any teacher I know would rather be teaching a lesson than doing that.
Time moves slowly on ACT day.
I finished this book while my kids were taking their tests, and the last quarter of it was terribly depressing. Zelda's mind was gone and Scott was trying to rekindle his fading talents while drinking himself to death. I wished more than once for him to go ahead and die, putting us both out of our misery. Finally, he obliged.