Ms. Bartels Recommends
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
If you know Boyne's work from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this is not that story; it's not even close. It is, however, a scathingly funny, frequently sad, often frustrating, biting commentary on the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on Ireland for years and the abuses of that mighty power to marginalize women and homosexuals until fairly recently. The book spans 70+ years in the life of Cyril Avery after he is given up for adoption by the 16-year-old mother who was forced out of her parish after she becomes pregnant by a lover she will not name. Cyril's early birth in the midst of an act of violence against the young woman's gay roommate starts us off on Cyril's crazy, calamitous, and hilarious life's journey. Are there too many coincidences to make this truly realistic? Absolutely. Is it great literature? No. But it is engaging to the point of distraction. I frequently found myself staying in my school bus seat even after we had pulled up on Tibbett Avenue just so I could finish the chapter or the page or the paragraph. You will want to know what happens to Cyril, how his life, after such a shaky beginning, turns out in the end, even if it makes you late for your next class or meeting.
"Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that's what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he?
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.
At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.
In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 10+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Ms. Kazan favorably reviewed this book last fall, plus it was an HM Newbery Finalist AND it won an actual Newbery Honor, so I had to read it (even though we try not to overlap in our reading). I'm so glad that I read this book – I absolutely loved Nisha and the fact that this story was told in letters to her deceased mother made it feel so much more authentic. Not only is Nisha struggling with the immediate trauma of being uprooted from her home and forced to flee from Pakistan, but she's also struggling with issues of identity and where she fits in as someone who is half-Muslim and half-Hindu. How will she remain connected to her Muslim mother if she must now identify as Hindu? I thought this book would be perfect for our Lion & Cub book club, where students and their parents meet to discuss recently published works. Not only that, but the author Veera Hiranandani lives nearby and has agreed to visit our book club on Monday, May 13th at 4pm in the Cohen Dining Commons. If you'd like to attend, please RSVP here.
"Shy twelve-year-old Nisha, forced to flee her home with her Hindu family during the 1947 partition of India, tries to find her voice and make sense of the world falling apart around her by writing to her deceased Muslim mother in the pages of her diary." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
This graphic memoir and National Book Award finalist is both heart-breaking and uplifting. Krosoczka lovingly but realistically portrays his unconventional upbringing by being honest and unflinching in his description of his drug-addicted mother and tough but loving grandparents. One of my favorite parts is when Krosoczka, embarrassed by his non-traditional family, tries to dissuade his grandparents from attending his eighth-grade graduation dinner – only to later realize how deeply he hurt their feelings. During the dinner, which his grandparents end up attending, he realizes that many of his peers have unconventional families and that he had nothing to be ashamed about. Krosoczka's story is full of some hard truths and uncomfortable realities; it's a true testament to his character that he turned out better than ok and went on to pursue his dream of becoming a successful artist.
"In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery – Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents – two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.
Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 7+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino
The Parting Glass isn't my usual choice of novel. There are no aliens, no alternate timelines, not a whisper of magic or AI, and definitely no heists. Instead, there is Mary Ballard: the secretly Irish, secretly lesbian, secret sister of the groomsman with whom her mistress is having an affair. I can't even begin to describe how much I grew to love Mary as a character. She's living in an increasingly confining set of lies that can't continue and her efforts to strangle them and destroy the consequences are both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. Her lady, Charlotte Walden, is no less complicated, although slightly less sympathetic. The novel's setting is sheer perfection; I could smell horses and hair oil and sewage and spilled beer throughout my reading. Every side character is well developed; I particularly loved Charlotte's half-aunt Prudence Graham, who deserves of her own novel. I also enjoyed the cameo of Eliza Jumel, owner of the Morris-Jumel mansion. The Parting Glass is an enthralling look into the lives of all sorts of women in the early Victorian Era and how they try to make those lives their own. I very much hope Guadagnino produces another work soon. In the meantime, I'll try to make do with her published short fiction.
"Set in the upstairs/downstairs of 19th century New York City, lady's maid Mary Ballard, who leads a dark double life, finds her world unraveling when the truth is exposed, forcing her to choose between family loyalty and loyalty to her mistress who has a secret of her own." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+