Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Last Time I Wore a Dress

Scholinski, Daphne. With Jane Meredith Adams. The Last Time I Wore a Dress. New York: Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1997. Print.


Liking to wear jeans and T-shirts may be a big no-no for women in places like Iraq, but here in the U.S. of A you wouldn't think it would get you committed to a mental institution. But for Daphne, it did. 


To say Daphne Scholinski has an indomitable spirit would be an epic understatement. She grew up in an unhappy home, thankfully her parents divorced, but still neither her mother or father seemed to want to be a parent. Her mother went off to "find herself," leaving Daphne and her little sister to live with their dad, who wasn't a caretaker (even for himself). She was a lonely, angry and misunderstood teenager, who was confused regarding her sexuality, but was not crazy. She was understandably depressed; her parents emotionally abandoned her. She was in desperate need of a nurturing figure and the protection a child should expect while being parented in any loose sense of the word; she might not have been molested continuously by stray neighbors and random passers-by if she'd had those things. She certainly wouldn't have been put in a mental institution during her formative teenage years (from 15 to 18), years critical to her mental and social development and formation of identity.

Writing this memoir, Daphne had the help of Jane Meredith Adams; I am unsure how much of the writing was strictly Daphne's, but her voice rings out in such a raw, ripping, painful way that I heard her loud and clear. When talking about her father's girlfriend she wrote: "She couldn't understand why I didn't get along with my father. She looked at him and saw a guy who tickled her on the couch and I saw a guy who beat me with a belt until I stopped crying. So we were in two different movies."  When discussing her disappointment in a new therapist at the hospital she writes, "Even this man with the kind blue eyes wanted me to cover my face with makeup. The bruises underneath my skin (figurative) - didn't he want to put his finger lightly on each one and say, Tell me about it?"  and later she reflects on "Why the thing they cared the most about was whether I acted the part of a feminine young lady. The shame is that the effects of depression, sexual abuse, violence: all treatable. But where I stood on the feminine/masculine scale: unchangeable. It's who I am." She is so honest, so forthcoming, it is amazing to think she could pull down the massive walls of self-protection she must have needed to withstand her harrowing, amazingly painful nightmare to reveal to her readers such a candid account of her teenage years.

At once both funny and horrifying, Daphne's memoir reads like a novel; she is quite graphic with her descriptions, and it is organized with flashbacks and backstory so artfully threaded throughout her narrative that it never bogs down, but feels as immediate and page-turning as any fiction novel, yet it is real. What was done to her is so wrong it raises the hackles of any reader, but also speaks intimately to those teens grappling with questions of sexual identity and preference, and helps them explore themes of rejection, belonging, self-acceptance and above all strength of the spirit.

Daphne Scholinski is an inspiration. 

Genre: Memoir/ Multicultural (GLBTQ) 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Knoft, Division of Random House, 2010. Print.


It was hard enough watching his mother get hit, so Jace learned just how to deflect his father’s blows from her to himself. Until one day when he’d had enough. And in one moment changed everything.


Reading a story about physical abuse could be a real downer, but Swati Avasthi inflects her protagonist, Jace Witherspoon with a such strong YA voice so full of ironic humor and such no-holds-barred honesty we are riveted to the page, rooting for Jace, even when he disappoints us. Even when he disappoints himself.

With certainty, many teens painfully exist under the tyranny of physical abuse at home, and no matter where Swati Avasthi did her research, whether it was from personal experience or a very close friend, her writing bleeds on the page, it was so visceral. If all it did was bleed, that would be a lot to take, but she lifts it up, and takes us on a journey with Jace, both figuratively and literally, as he flees his parents, his life and mostly himself, and tries to make some sense from what has happened to him, what could happen to the mother he left behind unprotected, and whatever did happen to his brother, who split years before. 

In one scene, Jace sits alone listening to a fight going on in the apartment next door between his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. As it escalates, Jace tensely waits for the sound of blows and crying, as that has been his only experience with disagreements in his life. When those blows don’t come, but instead the sounds of calm resolution and possibly warm embraces, Jace is stunned, wondering how his brother has broken the cycle of ugliness that has claimed them all so fully. He wants to ask him how, but can’t without admitting he was listening, or revealing the very thing he’s running from.

Jace is such a great character, so multifaceted, flawed, conflicted and confused. His first-person narrative is so honest and reflective it is easy to climb into Jace’s head and identify with him, it’s that immediate. Bonus points for all the other characters being so well-developed the reader feels like a fly on the wall in someone’s true-life hidden nightmare. The setting is littered with many references to fast-food, music and books that claim placement in the here and now - middle-class America. The prose is so good, the dialogue so raw, the theme so gritty, and the pacing so like a suspense-thriller, you will willingly take this quest of self with Jace, a perilous journey that will find him profoundly and forever altered. 

When the dust settles, life can rebuild. 

Genre: Realist/Edgy/Problem Novel, Coming of Age, Sports, Romance

Sunday, February 10, 2013

one of the those hideous books where the mother dies

Sones, Sonya. one of the those hideous books where the mother dies. New York: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004. Print.


With a name like Ruby, you'd think going to live in LA with a famous movie star would be a cake walk -- even if his name is Whip. 

Justification for Rejection:

Ruby Milliken, a fifteen-year-old girl from Boston, has to leave her boyfriend and best friend to go live with her father in Los Angeles after her mother dies. Rich and handsome, Whip Logan is a famous movie star that somehow is her father. It seems he divorced Ruby's mother soon after she was born, and she's never met him. If you have to have your mother die, acquiring a lifestyle of the rich and famous doesn't seem like such a bad consolation prize. 

It isn't. 

Ruby is a stereotypical teenage middle-class suburban white girl; her dad is a stereotypical heart-throb Hollywood movie star. Having left her mother after Ruby was born, Whip Logan is actually a nice guy that was just abiding her mother's wishes, but now that Ruby's mother has died, he wants to make it up to Ruby. She gets to live in Hollywood's version of a castle. She attends an exclusive high school for kids of the rich and famous. But Ruby misses her best friend and boyfriend back in Boston, who both miss her back, but predictably turn to each other for comfort (like any reader wouldn't see THAT coming). 

Ruby bonds with her dad's "personal assistant" who is a great guy and bridges the gap for Ruby to forge a relationship with her forgiveness-seeking father. The gay assistant turns out (of course), to be her dad's lover, and they all live happily ever after, (like any reader wouldn't see THAT coming). The fact that Ruby seems to miss her boyfriend and best friend more than she misses her recently deceased mother makes this verse novel miss the mark completely, abandoning one of the best opportunities to delve deeply into serious subject matter and take this into poetic territory. 

This verse novel also doesn't rhyme, have rhythm, isn't in iambic pentameter, doesn't possess any great prose, and would just be a little novel ready to be a Disney Channel movie if the sentences were simply formatted in paragraphs instead of dangling and left-justified with liberal use of white space in order to look like a poem.  

This verse novel is all shiny candy-cane surface. Thumb's down.

Genre: Poetry/Verse Novel