The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

theglasscastleJeanette Walls is a successful journalist and novelist. She and here husband live in a beautiful apartment in New York City. So it’s really strange when we are introduced to Jeanette’s mother in the introduction to the book .

Pg. 3

Things weren’t always this way. Not exactly.  Jeanette and her family grew up dirt poor. They never stayed in one place very long. Running from the police or bill collectors or just out of boredom, they ended up in Arizona, California, Nevada, West Virginia, New York.

You have so much sympathy for this family at one moment and then you want to strangle her parents the next. Will they make it? Everything seems fine one moment. Her dad has a new job and then, because he is an alcoholic, he starts drinking again. Their parents are charming, smart and capable and also total screwups. Let me read you an example:

Pg. 106

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The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

thepregnancyprojectIf you didn’t know her, you might assume Gaby Rodriguez’s destiny was set in stone. She was one of 8 kids raised by a single mom who never had enough money to pay the bills. Her mom never finished high school because she got pregnant, and Gabby’s sisters and brothers all became teen parents just like their mother. Research shows that because of Gabby’s family circumstances, she herself was practically guaranteed to be pregnant before she graduated high school.

But Gaby, like all of you in this room,  wasn’t a statistic, a stereotype. And she wanted everyone else to know they didn’t have to be either. By the time she got to high school, she was an honors student. She couldn’t even imagine having a kid until she was through with college.

So for a senior project, Gaby decided to challenge people’s assumptions. If she became pregnant, what would her classmates and teachers and her family say about her? Would they treat her any differently? To find out, she decided to fake a pregnancy to see what would happen.

She could never have imagined how everything would turn out.

 

Educating Esme by Esme Codell

educatingesmeEsme Codell sounds like the sort of teacher you would love to have in elementary school.

She insists that her students call her Madame Esme.

She does fun things like holds a fairy tale festival with a fashion show and a carnival. She creates a time machine for her students so they can “time travel” while they read.

Instead of Math, Science, and Social Studies, they have puzzling, mad scientist time, and time traveling and world exploring.

She gets her students excited about learning.

But her first year isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. She teaches in Chicago Public Schools and her students bring their problems to class even though she would love to protect them from the outside world.

The parents of some of her students are in prison or in extreme poverty. There are parents whose idea of supporting the teacher at home is to beat good behavior into the kids. On a field trip, gang members surround the bus and throw stones at the windows.

A normal person might have given up mid-year. A person who follows the rules. But not Esme. She does things her own way. Let me read you an example.

Read January 12 on pg. 88.

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No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin

nochoirboy“Are you the sum total of your worst acts?” -Bryan Stevenson, lawyer for death row inmates (explain quote)

Susan Kuklin went to death rows in prisons in Alabama and Texas to interview men who were convicted of murder and sent to death row all before the age of 18.

Our society has called these people monsters, the worst of the worst.

16 year old Roy killed his friend.
14 year old Mark and his brothers killed a couple who were going to testify against them in another case.
17 year old Nanon and some friends killed a guy in a cocaine deal gone wrong.

Are they really monsters?

They have been in prison for years now. One is an talented artist, another a poet. Nanon has written and published three books. They are on Amazon. I checked.

Also, there are interviews with two families–one family tells the story of the son and brother who was arrested at 17 year for murder and later executed on death row. Another family, grieving the death of their son and brother talk about their own complicated reactions to grief. His dad even speaks out against the death penalty and runs a vctim rights group.

The details of the stories are sometimes too hard to hear. The murders, life in prison, the grief of the victims…but you might agree at the end that they are more than the sum total of their worst acts…

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

stiffHave you heard someone say that they were going to donate their body to science when they die? It’s true. People do donate their body for scientific experiments. When I first read this book, I knew that bodies were donated to medical schools so that future doctors could study human anatomy.
But here are a few things I found out when I read Stiff:

Teachers at private medical schools in England during the 16th and 17th centuries were only allowed to use the cadavers of executed murders. A lot of people didn’t want their body used after death because they believed their whole bodies went to heaven. So the teachers hired grave robbers to steal fresh cadavers from graves.

Dead bodies have been used in government experiments to determine the effects of bullets and landmines on the body. They have also used them to figure out how the impact of plane and car crashes on human bodies.

Cadavers have been used in a number of bizarre experiments throughout history. Human head transplants, blood transfusions from cadavers a few hours of death. A French scientist tried to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus. Another scientist tried to determine the existence of the soul by weighing people right before and after death.

Body parts have also been used in medicine, food and even as garden compost.

Curious to learn more? Check out Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

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Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

454856[1]John Elder Robison has had some fascinating jobs during his lifetime. He now fixes fancy European cars. He used to work as an engineer developing toys for the Mattell company. And did I mention that he was a sound engineer for the band Kiss where he also helped to create some very cool special effects for the band. But if you met him when he was a kid, you might have gotten a different picture.

sociopath, psycho, delinquent

Those were the words that some adults used to describe John when he was young. People always thought he was up to something because he wouldn’t look them in the eye and had a hard time communicating with other people, often misinterpreting social cues, facial expressions and other things we take for granted.

He seemed “off” somehow, different than “normal” people. But that assessment was more than a bit harsh. John didn’t find out until he was in his 40s that he had a syndrome called Aspergers. Not being able to read those social cues is one of several characteristics that mark a kid with Aspergers. It is a high functioning form of Autism.

They didn’t have a name for it when he was a kid. Add to the difficulties of living with Asperger a father who is an abusive alcoholic and a mother who is slowly slipping into mental illness. His prospects in high school don’t look good. He dropped out, but he found out that he was a wiz with electronics. He eventually taught himself everything he needed to know about sound engineering and started to become a local legend among bands for his ability to fix sound equipment. And that’s when the real adventure began.

If you want to find out about his bewildering love life, getting arrested for drugs in the Caribbean, creating flaming guitars and other special effects for the band Kiss and his other adventures, then check out Don’t Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison.