Monday, November 20, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia


Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad, 2010. 217 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

My Review:  
Before I start my review, I'm going to share the list of awards this book has received: 

With that much confirmation that it is a good book, what can I say? I read this because I stumbled on the sequel, P.S.: Be Eleven and was intrigued by the characters, the setting, and a view into a different world from my own. Of course, being me, I had to read the books in order, so I sent for this one through the library.

So do I think it's worth all those awards? Probably maybe. I like the description above, of "the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers," because it does have some of that feel. There is a huge potential weight in this book, but it is kept at bay by a good grip on humor, and maybe the absurd (did the Black Panthers run summer camps for kids? I am not completely sure about that, but they did invent the free breakfast program). It's good to be shown another side of something that the media painted with a pretty broad brush at the time, and maybe ever since.

Like many children's books, this is also about family, and what it means. I think Delphine and her sisters get some lessons there, but not as big a lesson as their mother does.

My Recommendation:
Definitely worth reading, for both an engaging story and an historical education. I will be reading the sequel(s) soon.

FTC Disclosure: I checked One Crazy Summer out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Flash: Time Was

This week's Wendig Challenge was to use your smartphone's predictive text feature and, starting from "Once upon a time," pick words until you had a story, or at least an opening line. My own efforts were pretty boring, but follow the link and see what some people came up with. Since I didn't like what I got, I picked one to use to start my story. I stole the line, "Once upon a time, I could change time," and got something from someone else mixed in, which gave me a story to write. I even hit 1000 words spot on.

And maybe I have another flash-fiction anthology to put together sometime: the end of the world. I think I've destroyed it quite a few times on this blog.

Time Was

Once upon a time, when there was time, I could change time. I could speed it up or slow it down, even stop it altogether for…a time. 

The only thing I could not do was the one thing I wanted to do. I could not turn time back. But I had to.

It’s not that time is a river, the way they say. You literally cannot turn a river back, unless you are a really major earthquake, I guess. It’s more that time is a one-way street: you can go the wrong way, but you had better be prepared to be run down by a semi. Or I could put it stronger: it’s like those old-fashioned clocks with chimes, the mechanical kind from way before they invented electronics. You could put them forward, but if you tried to set them back, they broke. 

I tried to turn time back.
It happened a long time ago. Or maybe it was yesterday. I told you I broke time.

I was in charge of my little brother, and I failed.

Mom threw us out of the house that morning, told us not to come back until dinnertime. She'd had about enough of summer vacation, and didn't want us underfoot. "Adam, you take care of Benji. Make sure he doesn't go anywhere near the quarry."

Of course, all I wanted that day was to go to the old quarry. My friends were headed there to go swimming, and I didn't want a little brother tagging along, even if Mom hadn’t forbidden it. He'd rat on me if I took him, anyway.

Don't ask me why I didn't think he'd rat on me for leaving him behind, but I was only 14, so my brain didn't work so well.

Long story short, I ditched him, he tried to follow me, got hit by a car, and died three days later.

Later, when I found out that I could change time, can you wonder that the first thing I wanted to do was go back and change that day?

I first learned I could change time during an incredibly boring Western Civ lecture in college. I know, you’re thinking that everyone has found that time takes twice as long to pass when you are bored out of your mind. But when I got to wishing the end of the class would come faster…it did. Of course, I missed the rest of the lecture, and all that stuff was on the test. I got my first “D” ever, but I was too excited by what I’d discovered to care.

A few days later, I found myself doing a bio lab with the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and I just didn’t want the class to end. I managed to stretch that 3-hour class over about 3 days, judging by how my beard grew. No one else seemed to notice, which was weird, but I was too happy to care.

I spent the next several years trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. From the first, I knew what I was going to do once I had learned enough. To help me get there, I changed my major to physics, and then started a graduate degree in theoretical physics.

After five years of study and experimentation, I decided I was ready.

I spent weeks making my plan and preparing for the project. There were some things I couldn’t figure out. I had no idea if, when I got back to that fateful day eleven years before, I would be 14 or 25. I didn’t think that mattered, but I worried what would happen if, having saved Benji, I lost the ability to manipulate time, or the drive to perfect the skill, or…you can see the sort of dilemma I was considering. Or should have been considering.

None of that mattered to me. I wanted Benji back and I was willing to risk anything to get him.

The one thing I didn’t consider was that I might not just rip the fabric of time, but destroy it.

I did it all with my mind. I didn’t need a time machine or anything like that. Not even a TARDIS, though that would have been way cooler. I just had to re-work my entire consciousness, while leaving my body free to do whatever needed doing.

If I’d been as smart as I thought I was, I’d have done a dry run—gone back to yesterday and ordered the shrimp taco instead of the chicken, or something like that. But I was so sure of myself, and so eager to see my brother again and fix what I’d done, that I jumped right in.

I knew as soon as I began that going back in time was different from slowing or stopping it. I could have scrubbed the experiment, but I was too excited. I pushed on.

I mean that more or less literally. That whole “time like an ever-rolling stream” thing works here. I was swimming against a stream, and it wasn’t a gentle brook. This was a flood. Not the 60-mph debris-filled flash flood of the desert, but more like the Mississippi in flood: much faster than it looks, and about a million tons of force pushing against you.

I struggled on against the flood of time, and the farther back I went, the harder it pushed, and the faster it seemed to move. I was nowhere near my goal when I began to get glimmers that something bad was happening. I thought it was just happening to me, and I was willing to do or suffer anything for Benji, so I kept on.

I’ve tried two or three metaphors for what happened, and none of them is right. That semi on the wrong-way street didn’t crush me. The clock didn’t break into pieces. The river didn’t turn backwards.

They all fragmented.

Time fragmented.

Chaos consumed the universe.

And Benji was still dead.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Audio-book review: The Last of the Doughboys


Title: The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and their Forgotten World War
Author: Richard Rubin; read by Grover Gardner
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2013. Hardcover by Houghton Mifflen, 2013. 528 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. But then, he found another. And another. Eventually he managed to find dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now.

A decade-long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their Great War led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, and battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German aeroplane; an 18-year-old Bronx girl “drafted” to work for the War Department; a machine-gunner from Montana; a Marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the 16-year-old who became America’s last WWI veteran; and many, many more.

They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment, so that they, and the World War they won – the trauma that created our modern world – might at last be remembered. You will never forget them.

My Review:  
I have read and listened to a lot of books about WWI, or fiction set during that war. This is arguably the best. The publisher's blurb gives some idea of why. I will go further to say that Rubin skillfully interweaves the historical events before, during, and after the war into the accounts of the 30+ veterans he interviewed. The result is a book that not only gives a deep personal insight into what it was to be there (though most of the men Rubin interviewed downplayed the death and danger), but also helps clarify what the US did in the war--and why. For me, there was another side-effect: since much of my knowledge of the war comes from fiction written in Canada or the UK, I had a different set of battles in mind as the important ones. The book gave me a new set of names to remember. (By the way, I would dearly love to read any similar book in which someone interviewed British or Canadian veterans of that war).

The book is not a comprehensive history of the war, for all that. It does not try to understand the political mess that dragged the world into the war, nor even to lay out all the battles in an orderly fashion. What it does, and I would say does well, is personalize the war. And the fact that Rubin could find veterans of that war in 2003 helped to bring back to me that this was my grandparents' war. Both of my grandfathers were involved in the war; I have to regret that I lost them before I was old enough to know how much I wanted to ask them about it. Listening to the accounts of the men (and woman) Rubin interviewed helps bring their lives into focus for me.

My only regret with this book is that it needs visuals--maps and photos. It occurs to me that the print edition very likely has these things, and that this is a drawback of listening to history rather than reading it. I may pick up a print copy, in part also because there were things I learned that I'm already having trouble remembering.

My Recommendation:
A must-read for anyone interested in WWI, or anyone who hardly knows we fought in the First World War. I'll go out on a limb and recommend the print edition, unless it turns out not to have any images, in which case, Grover Gardner does an impressive job of reading, especially voicing the men Rubin interviewed.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Last of the Doughboys out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."