Welcome to the age of Fifteen!

fifteen cover 4Beverly Cleary once stated, “As I grew up…I could rarely find what I wanted to read most of all….stories about American boys and girls….who lived in the same kind of neighborhood I lived in and went to a school like the one I attended.” Her praise in the classroom during her adolescent years, coupled with her desire for particular literature seems to have motivated her to write children’s texts like Fifteen—her seventh book, published in 1956.

Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen is a young-adult fictional novel that acquaints readers with Jane Purdy during a pivotal stage of her adolescence. In the beginning of Fifteen, Jane Purdy declares, “Today, I’m going to meet a boy” (1). By that afternoon, she meets Stanley Crandall, who’s not just any boy, but about whom, by the end of the book, she proudly thinks, “she was Stan’s girl” and “that was all that mattered” (203). Jane Purdy. Is she a prophetess or a psychic? Neither. She is a typical fifteen year old Cali girl, who thinks, acts and dreams like the quintessential fifteen-year-old female of the 1950s. During the summer months following Jane’s freshman year at Woodmont High, in Woodmont California, Jane spends her days babysitting, thinking about how she can measure up to cool kids like Marcy Stokes, and daydreaming about boys, of course. Upon one of her sitting appointments, she haphazardly meets Stan Crandall, who works as a driver and delivery boy for Doggy Diner. It is puppy love at first sight.fifteen cover 2

Yes, Jane has finally met a boy; however, developing a relationship with him wouldn’t come without a series of missteps, misgivings, misunderstandings, and winning parental approval on many occasions. She goes from devising all sorts of ways to track down her mystery, nameless boy to being tracked down by him; from being asked to go on a few dates with him to not being asked to go to the dance; from behaving like a Miss Muffet to behaving like the thoughtful, caring and heroic Jane that Stan adored. So like any great story, it has its ups and downs before the satisfying ending.

As Jane’s story unfolds, we see how the life of a teenager during the 1950s meets challenges that cause her to re-evaluate who she is, determine the importance of how Beverly Cleary Collage 3she is portrayed by her peers and why, and learn that being herself is what makes her so admirable. In a cutesy and quaint and 1950sish way, Fifteen captures the realities that fifteen year-olds deal with universally. Though settings and cultures and beliefs across the board may vary, I believe that the innocent attitudes and thoughts that Jane and her peers portray can be related to by nearly every fifteen-year-old. Whether you agree with my opinion or not, I think that you would understand that Beverly Clearly books are indeed middle-school classroom proof.

-JES

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Down These Mean Streets Reviewed: Hate, Heart and Self-Discovery

Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas, 1967Down These Mean Streets

Warning: This book contains extreme language, violence, drug use and scenes of a sexual nature. Reader discretion is advised.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its explicit content, Down These Mean Streets seems honest and in earnest. It is the memoir of author Piri Thomas, a man who knew that “since the Reconstruction days following the Civil War, racists in white hoods or dressed otherwise have worked very hard to return things to their version of the good ol’ plantation days,” but also believed that “love [was] the barrio’s greatest strength” (334-335). These ideas are among the many rooted in Thomas’s memoir.

The story begins in 1941 when Piri is just twelve years old and, as Thomas writes, “the Great Hunger called Depression was still down on Harlem” (8). Thomas’s authorial voice is natural—born in the streets—and his diction seems to echo the language of struggle and strife. On page one, for instance, Thomas writes: “The streets of Harlem make an unreal scene of frightened silence at 2 a.m. Like everything got a layoff from noise and hassling. Only the rumbling of a stray car passing by or the shy foraging of a cat or dog make the quietness bearable (emphasis added).” In addition to this skillful use of language, Thomas peppers the memoir with Spanish words, giving it its own sound.

At just twelve years of age, Piri, whose mother describes him as a Puerto Rican moreno (which translates to dark brown, almost black), begins to consciously experience racism. The Italian boys on his block call him “n*****” and pick fights with him. Piri even feels isolated on the basis of color in his own home because his mother and his siblings are several shades lighter than him. Only Piri’s father’s skin is as dark as his own, but Piri cannot connect with him because he is distant and rejects his own African blood. Although Piri initially clings to the idea that he is “Puerto Rican” and not black, one of his friends, Brew, engages him in a serious conversation about his appearance and his racial identity, causing the two to venture down South. While the trip helps Piri better understand his identity, it sharpens his hatred of white people and the pain they have caused both in his lifetime and throughout history.

Piri’s pain and rage drive him to street fighting, drugs and armed robbery—a downward spiral that culminates when he is sent to prison for shooting a police officer at twenty-two years of age. Yet Piri’s heart, which is often conceived as steadfastness in conflict despite its going way beyond this, is not exhausted by the hardship he endures.

Down These Means Streets is a tour de force, which touches on subjects as great and universal as racism, alienation, poverty, hate, love, friendship and sexuality and others as specific as the WPA, Jim Crow law, the hypo-descent rule, “passing” and the Nation of Islam. It is a gripping story, a literary phenomenon and, as written by The New York Times Book Review, “a linguistic event.”

-SD

First name, Donald. Last name starts with a “D”.

fake-donald-duckHow do you accept who you are and where you came from when you hate who you are and where you came from? Donald Duk, not the pant-less Disney duck, is an eleven year old Chinese-American boy who is trying to distance himself as much as he can from the Chinese part of who he is. He hates his name, which is understandable, if I were named Woody Woodpecker, I’d be a bit peeved too. But Donald wasn’t named after Walt’s fowl creation, he was named after his father’s mentor. His name is not meant to mock, it is meant to honor, and Donald has a hard time understanding this.

Donald also wants nothing to do with the Chinese New Year that is happening all around San Francisco’s Chinatown, where he lives. He hates Chinatown and he wants nothing to do with the significance that each day the Chinese New Year carries. He wants nothing to do with his father’s Chinese restaurant, other than asking his father to make dishes from cuisine’s that aren’t Chinese. He is mystified when his white friend, Arnold Azalea, acting as the reader’s surrogate who might be unfamiliar with Chinese customs, wants to learn more about Chinese culture. What is in the red envelopes of lay see and is “ho see fot choy” a dish or a wish of good luck. Why would someone want to know more about what it means to be Chinese? Donald’s dream is to be anything but Chinese, which is why it is interesting what he actually finds in his dreams.

Donald-Duk-CMYK-348x535In Donald’s dreams he meets some of the members of the 108 heroes of The Water Margin, think Robin Hood and his Merry Men only Chinese. In Donald’s dreams he is transported back in time to when Chinese men were helping build the transcontinental railroad. Donald cannot change this past or right any wrongs that happened to his countrymen. He can only be an observer, but this presents a problem after he wakes up. He wants to be a part of something, the American culture, but he is not sure if they will accept him for who he is and where he is from. Who wins when you are pushing towards one culture, and another culture is pulling you in the opposite direction? Donald Duk by Frank Chin asks, can there be a balance?

-MAS 2015

Dear friend,

Dear friend, I found an old stack of letters the other day. Each was addressed the same way that this letter started and each ended with the phrase, “Love always, Charlie.” These letters, by Charlie, detail his first year as a freshman in the early nineties. Charlie is having a difficult time. He is a bit of an introvert and has suffered some significant personal losses recently, which have affected him. His best friend…well… his best friend took his own life. His favorite Aunt, the one who he felt understood him the most, she too, passed away.

Life for Charlie is not all bad. Charlie befriends Sam and Patrick, two seniors at his new school who are brother and sister. These two take him under their wing and Charlie feels something that he hasn’t felt in a long time, acceptance. He also starts to feel something new, something different. Charlie falls for Sam in a big way and he struggles constantly with these feelings for his friend.Perksofbeingwallflower1

Charlie doesn’t struggle with finding a place within this group of fast friends that come with Sam and Patrick. He defines his role within the larger group as being, more or less, a witness to the events that surround him rather than a participant. He is more than happy to just watch the group and when he watches he sees what no one else sees. His bystander attitude is what makes him part of the group. “(He) sees things. (He) keep(s) quiet about them. And (he) understand(s).” And thus are The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

The world that Charlie lives in is very different than our own. In the early nineties, there were no cell-phones, no computers, no Facebook, at least not like there is today. Instead there are diners and mix-tapes. There are friends who stop by unannounced because they need someone to talk to; there is no texting to find out if someone is home or not. Experiences were shared in person, not over a screen, not with a thumbs-up button. Charlie lived in a time where personal interactions defined a relationship, if Charlie were born ten years later, would he have found the strength to find friends, real friends? Would he have written these letters? Or would he have just written a blog post while listening to the Smiths

Charlie’s world is filled with people who care and love him in different ways. And the people around Charlie are going through their own struggles of understanding what love really is. Love is never something set in stone, it is something that grows and evolves and shifts. So if love is always in flux, then how do we accept the love that we think we deserve? Thanks Charlie. 12342 -MAS2015

The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Chbosky, Stephen

Student Choice book to present for ABR.

A psychological and psychoanalytic review on Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eyes

Toni Morrison shines light to the negative psychological effects of beauty standards in our society through the character, Pecola, in the Bluest Eyes.  Morrison experienced first-hand the negative effects of it when her friend in elementary school was discontent with her appearance because she did not have blue eyes. Morrison tried to visualize her friend, who was black, with blue eyes, and was mortified.  That moment impacted Morrison’s life so deeply that she ended up writing about it in her first novel, The Bluest Eyes.  Pecola represents Morrison’s friend who wanted blue eyes. In the first section of the novel, readers learn about Pecola’s obsession to be white when she has a long conversation with Frieda about Shirley Temple’s cuteness.  Pecola becomes so consume with thoughts of being white that it distorts her view completely to the point where she believes she can actually get blue eyes. Tragically in the end she convinces herself that she has blue eyes and she finally accepts her appearance.

Morrison’s personality is seen through the character, Claudia, in the beginning of the novel where she states that she could not see why so many people were infatuated with Shirley Temple. Claudia recounts once receiving a big baby doll with blue eyes for Christmas, and resenting it. Claudia says, “I was physically revolted by and secretly frightened of those round moronic eyes, the pancake face, and orangeworms hair.”(21) Claudia felt alienated by the doll because she was black and the baby doll was white. She felt it was unrealistic for her to pretend to be the baby’s mother since they did not look alike.  Claudia begins to realize that the image of blonde hair and blue eyes is supposed to be the standard of beauty, but she is offended by that idea because it does not represent her appearance. When Claudia states that she likes Jane Withers, instead of Shirley Temples, Frieda and Pecola thinks she is  “incomprehensible”.  Jane Wither’s character represents one who does not like Shirley Temple in the TV show. Claudia did not accept the beauty standards of her society because it was exclusively attributed to one race.  Morrison shows through Pecola that if one does not accept their unique beauty then they will never be happy.  JA

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson- A Taste of Modern Realism

fromthenotebooksofmelaninsunpb1995Addressing some of the most important issues faced by the African American community, really by all minority communities, Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson is one of the most rarest and yet realest novels to be written. While classified as YA lit due to its young teenage narrator, Melanin Sun can really be for all audiences no matter what age or race. Melanin Sun is about a fourteen-year-old boy named Melanin Sun who faces various challenges in his thirteenth year. Mel, as he is called, has grown up his entire life with only his mother within his small Brooklyn neighborhood, which is predominantly African American. Not many white people have ever come into the neighborhood and very rarely do the inhabitants step out of their community. Now on the brink of turning 14, Melanin Sun is becoming aware of one of the most important things: Himself. Melanin Sun fears loosing the relationship that he has always cherished with his mother, EC, being that she is all he’s ever known even after she reveals the truth about her sexuality and girlfriend. Believing that EC’s white girlfriend, Kristen, is out to steal his place next to his mom, Melanin Sun embarks on a lonely internal journey in which he questions all that has ever happened and why. When word speculates around the very nosy and rumor-filled neighborhood about EC and her white girlfriend, Mel tries to hide from everyone including the girl he likes, Angie, in order to avoid judgment despite being taught better by EC. When his longtime friend finally confronts him, it seems as if the world has ended for Melanin Sun. He beats up his friend, possibly loosing him as a friend forever, and commits to hiding himself subconsciously…that is until EC finally forces him to spend quality time with Kristin and herself. It is then that Melanin Sun truly finds himself and the solutions to the feelings the make him an unforgettable teenager. Dealing with discovering about his mom’s homosexuality, his feelings toward the white race and his own sexual feelings, Woodson creates a narrator so unique and modern that allows the reader to evoke the various different emotions that let us understand what it is like to be thirteen again in today’s world. Most importantly, Woodson shows us the stereotypes and notions that people in minority communities are faced with daily. She mixes racism and sex together to bring an even more powerful message about the importance of being understanding.

– DML

The Bluest Eye: A Review

 

In Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, the author explores a variety of themes including race, physical beauty, sexuality, youth, and most profoundly, love. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison brings about an array of issues that beg the reader to contemplate the question: How might have Pecola’s fate been different had she been in a more stable environment?

The setting plays an important role in the novel, as the characters live in Ohio in 1941, post the Great Depression. Pauline and Cholly migrate to Ohio in hopes of a brighter economic future, free from the racism of the south. However, their efforts are thwarted by the problems that they encounter, such as judgment based on looks and race. These issues, in conjunction with their tumultuous pasts, create turmoil in the family, which soon bleeds into the formation of how Pecola perceives herself.

Pecola, the young daughter of Pauline and Cholly, faces a self-loathing about her own physical/racial identity that is heartbreaking and poignant. Pecola exists in a lonely world, in which she is alienated from both her parents and her lighter-skinned peers. Her insecurities lead her to fantasizing about becoming somebody different—a person with blue eyes (representing a white person) as opposed to who she is. The tribulations of Pecola’s life eventually spiral into her father raping her, and then losing her baby. Ultimately, Pecola becomes mentally unstable by the end of the book, believing that she actually has the blue eyes that she coveted for so long.

The torment that Pecola undergoes, particularly as a young child, is a painful result of abusive parents and social malice. Might have Pecola’s fate turned out differently, had her parents confronted their own demons and had become stronger from their past as opposed to taking out their aggressions on her? Would Pecola been able to be comfortable with herself, had her mother been more supportive? How do these issues in parenting relate to what we see in our very own classrooms with our students? And who is mostly to blame: her parents or society?

–VM