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July 25, 2013

Throwback Thursday: George Alexander Louis Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Us

Posted by emily

Lots of interesting things going on this week! Royal baby George Alexander Louis was (finally) born, the weather got weird, we saw and hated the new Ryan Gosling movie and subsequently underwent a major paradigm shift and, most importantly, Kate joined our #tbt Team (our TBTeam?)! We've got a great roundup today, full of missing girls, wacky middle school humor, scary stories that'll give you nightmares and even a healthy dose of J.D. Salinger. So throw on your favorite old-school track suit because we're about to jog your memory. (Get it? I don't even know anymore.)

At some point or another, we've all asked ourselves: Am I adopted? I know I did when I was younger...when I felt like I looked nothing like my parents, or my siblings...and there were significantly more baby pictures of my brother and my sister and seemingly none of me. (Of course, now, everyone in my family looks scarily similar to one another!) Growing up, I'd see so many TV shows or movies where the parents tell their 15-year-old son that he's actually adopted. For so many years, I was convinced the same would happen to me. THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON is a story that brings to life that teenager fear --- the possibility that everything you thought you knew about you, and your family, could be wrong. This shocking and suspenseful novel touches upon typical young adult angst and highlights teenagers' relentless questions of self-identity, and the undying "need" to fit in. Not only is Cooney's hit a thrilling page-turner, it makes you, as the reader, think about your own familial roots, question who you can trust, and what you would do if you saw your own face on a milk carton.

No but seriously, WAYSIDE SCHOOL IS FALLING DOWN is not sixth week material. It's a first-rate, first week kind of book. It’s also the second book in Louis Sachar’s brilliant Sideways Stories From Wayside School series --- which I’m tempted to say was the children’s lit inspiration for the zany, meta humor of “Arrested Development” --- and although the first book is hilarious, it’s more of an introduction to the Wayside world. Hilarity really starts to ensue in the second book. There really is too much to go into here; I’m not even being lazy, and I suggest if you have three hours to kill in an Internet hole you check out the Wikipedia page. But, while we’re here, let’s talk highlights:
-The book starts with an amazing bang. Mrs. Jewls throws the class’s new computer out the window to teach her students about gravity. Point made, Mrs. J, and I learned the hard way that it’s not funny to even suggest trying this in your own classroom.
-The creepy men with the attaché case and their dark, existential ultimatums? Didn’t get it when you were a kid? Revisit, revisit, revisit.
-Calvin’s potato tattoo. Let’s all get!
-Chapters 20, 21 and 22 are lumped together for the three Erics. Sachar was a master of form way before David Foster Wallace even got in the game.
-Wasn’t Louis (as the straight-man stand-in for Sachar himself) the best?
-Miss Zarves and her bizarro class on the 19th floor.
-Most crushworthy: Todd, Myron or Calvin? Discuss.
Now let’s all go play some Way-High-Up-Ball. Don’t slam the goozack on your way out.

How many teenagers do you know of who have published a book placed on the New York Times Children’s Books Best Seller list?  At 15, most individuals spend their time adjusting to high school life, going to the mall with friends and complaining about homework --- not writing novels.  I’m not sure what it was about this book that initially caught my attention seven years ago on my weekly visit to the public library. Maybe it was the ferocious dragon on the cover, or the prospect of reading a book over 500 pages long --- but whatever it was, ERAGON, by Christopher Paolini, was, at first glance, an enticing young adult fantasy novel. Once I began reading, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was hooked after the first chapter. The book tells the story of a farm boy named Eragon who finds a stone in the mountains. A dragon --- later named Saphira --- hatches from the stone. The plot really becomes captivating when the evil King Galbatorix learns about Eragon and his dragon and attempts to capture them. The rest of the novel is jam-packed with action and suspense as Eragon and Saphira flee from their hometown and search for the Varden --- rebels determined to overthrow King Galbatorix. While the novel received mixed reviews from critics --- some claimed it had “clichéd descriptions” --- ERAGON is truly an entertaining and enjoyable read for all fans of fantasy. The plot remains engrossing until the end, and there is plenty of action, magic and suspense --- all the traditional ingredients of a satisfying fantasy novel. Looking back I’m amazed by the realization that I was reading a best selling novel written by an author my age. I recommend ERAGON for anyone who seeks a riveting and authentic work of fantasy by a young man with great talent, style and imagination.

I blame any nightmare I’ve ever had on the illustrations (and a few of the stories) from SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK by Alvin Schwartz. My sister and I had all three books in the collection and we used to love to read them out loud to each other and to our friends at sleepovers. All of the tales are based on old folklore --- most of them are pretty frightening, some are just bizarre and others are actually humorous. However, anyone who’s read the book knows that the stories’ fright factor pales in comparison to the truly disturbing drawings that occupy every other page. Legends of ghosts, graveyards, spiders and detached limbs come to life with black and white depictions that seem to redefine the term “nightmarish.” Even just recalling the book’s cover is enough to make me want to sleep with the lights on tonight.

Every spring, the librarians at my high school would dutifully put together a list of books we could choose from for our summer reading. I’m pretty sure about half of my classmates chose at random and their books sat unopened until September, but still, it was the thought that counted. My freshman year, I chose NINE STORIES by J.D. Salinger, because everyone knows Salinger, right? Anyway, I finished NINE STORIES over the summer and had absolutely no idea what it was about. None. I walked into the book discussion in September and was utterly lost. I was also the only freshman in the room. But thankfully, this wonderful man (who later became my AP English teacher) straightened things out for me. We discussed “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” a story included in the book and now one of my favorite Salinger works. Seymour Glass, the main character, decides to go for a swim while his wife Muriel reassures her mother that he is perfectly sane, despite his erratic behavior since returning from the war (World War II). Meanwhile, Seymour swims with Sybil, a girl no more than eight and tells her about all the bananafish in the ocean. Sybil and Seymour fight about Seymour paying attention to another little girl in their hotel and then Seymour kisses her foot and Sybil leaves. Later, Seymour kills himself while Muriel sleeps. I walked into this book discussion completely perplexed and left with my head swimming in materialism and the search for innocence. NINE STORIES is a collection of nine narratives (shocker), each with what I know now is their own special Salinger social commentary.