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Search tags: Neal-Shusterman
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review 2017-02-19 21:39
Scythe - Neal Shusterman

I have a lot of mixed feelings on Skythe, its very unique and for that I liked it. Plus Neal Shusterman can definitely write. I found myself a bit bored throughout this one though. It took me several weeks to finish which is unusual. 

 

Citra and Rowan have been chosen to train to be Skythes, known to us as grim reapers. In a world where gleaning is normal, Citra and Rowan have to figure out what is the right thing to do and how they can survive. 

 

I think it is one I will remember for it being different, I just wish I was more into the story and these characters. Overall opinion? It's a slow one. 

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text 2016-12-27 17:30
Top 10 Reads of 2016
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas
Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors - Conn Iggulden
The Heretic - Henry Vyner-Brooks
How To Be A Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life - Ruth Goodman
The Colour of Poison: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery (Volume 1) - Toni Mount
The Imp of Eye (Renaissance Sojourner Series Book 1) - Kristin Gleeson,Moonyeen Blakey
A Rule Against Murder - Louise Penny
Scythe - Neal Shusterman
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson
Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys

I may have rated a few other books just as highly as these, but when I look through the 100 books that I read this year these are the ones that give me pause. Each of these books surprised me, challenged my way of thinking, uplifted me, or were extraordinarily memorable in their own way. It may seem easy to choose a top 10 for the year, but I am thankful that I've read so many fantastic books that this was a challenging task. To make it easier, I did not count re-reads (Pillars of the Earth) or books in the same series (Bloodline by Conn Iggulden).

 

I'm looking forward to another great year of reading in 2017! 

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review 2016-12-20 14:03
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Scythe - Neal Shusterman

Shusterman is the master of taking deep profound issues and addressing them through an action packed story. Like Unwind, this book will make the reader think about matters of faith, life, and death without them even realizing it.

On the surface, this is the story of a world that many people dream of. In this utopian (dystopian?) future, people do not die. Disease and aging have been defeated and man is immortal. Bodies are programmed to not feel pain or gain too much weight. Starting to feel old? "Turn the corner" and reset yourself to whatever age you prefer. Years aren't even numbered anymore because time has no real meaning.

But that's the problem. When life is made too easy and time is endless, what happens to the passion in life and the drive to make the world a better place during the time allotted to you? People have endless knowledge at their fingertips but do not use it to make themselves wise. (Alright, that might have already happened to us.)

The second problem is that people cannot just keep being born without someone making room for them, so man takes the place of God (or nature if you prefer) and the Scythedom decides who will die. Predictably, this well-meaning organization becomes corrupt, as our two main characters, teenage scythe apprentices, find out.

Besides addressing how horrible things turn out when people are given exactly what they think they want, this book puts the reader in the minds of two rather different protagonists who are offered a future that they didn't ask for, but maybe they want, but then they feel bad for wanting it. After all, what kind of person wants to be a scythe?

From there, the twists and turns in the story will keep you riveted to the page until you are begging for the next book. I have recommended Unwind as my favorite dystopian novel ever since I first read it. This is the first book to come close since then. Well done, Shusterman.

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text 2016-10-18 03:48
Responsibly Handling Mental Health in YA Literature
Challenger Deep - Neal Shusterman
Every Last Word - Tamara Ireland Stone

Last weekend my husband and I attended NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis. The first session I went to was titled "Mental Health in Young Adult Literature," and it was presented by Amanda MacGregor with Teen Librarian Toolbox -- a GREAT resource for those working in teen services or anyone who cares about YA lit. (This session made me miss my days as a teen services librarian so much.)

 

MacGregor talked a lot about how common mental illness is among teens (and the population in general -- up to 25 percent of us will experience mental illness firsthand in our lives) and the importance of its presence in teen literature to show teens who have mental health struggles that they are not alone, and to foster greater compassion in those who don't struggle personally. She stressed that it's important that YA lit neither stigmatize nor romanticize mental illness, and that it show that help is possible. A work of fiction may be the first time a teen encounters someone who has a mind that works the same way as their own.

 

MacGregor shared her own lifelong struggle with anxiety, and she shared writing from YA authors who had written about mental illness, many of whom had personal experience with the mental health issues faced by their characters.

 

I agreed with MacGregor about the importance of portraying mental illness in a sensitive way when writing for young audiences, and I found myself examining my middle-grade novel through that lens.

 

Authors often talk about writing the book that they wished they'd had when they were young. I did the same, and much of what my protagonist, Maddy, goes through, I also experienced at her age. That includes my first brush with depression.

 

I struggled with depression throughout my adolescence, encountering it for the first time when I was about 10 years old -- from there it would come and go in waves, hitting its apex when I was 16; I finally found relief when I was prescribed antidepressants to treat my chronic migraines.

 

My novel opens with Maddy's suicide attempt; later in the book she experiments with self-harm. She is also the victim of bullying, to which, I would argue, depression is a natural response. She is never clinically diagnosed -- I have never received a clinical diagnosis, either. She does encounter the concept of mental illness through her father, who falls into a depression after he loses his job. Because his depression interferes with his ability to contribute fully as a parent, Maddy's mother pushes him to get help, and he does. So Maddy is aware that depression exists, and also that help exists for it. She even wonders briefly if she (and her mother) should get treatment. But she never sets foot in a therapist's office, and she finds other ways to heal.

 

I have no doubt that adolescents struggling with mental illness fall through the cracks all the time. Part of it is that we just expect teenagers to be "moody" or "difficult." As an adult or a parent, I'm sure it's difficult to discern when a teenager's struggles are a natural result of the seismic hormonal and social changes of that age, and when they signify an underlying chemical issue that should be professionally or medically treated. And often, teens themselves do not have the vocabulary to name what they are experiencing -- or the agency to ask for help.

 

In light of MacGregor's discussion, I find myself questioning whether it is irresponsible to portray mental illness without explicitly naming it in books aimed at children. Part of the challenge is that mental illness exists on a spectrum and is somewhat subjective, despite the existence of diagnostic questionnaires and the DSM-V. Although I, as the author, can diagnose depression in my main character, a reader could argue, based on the events of the story, that she has schizophrenia and/or dissociative identity disorder. I don't agree with either of those diagnoses, but I certainly wouldn't try to talk a reader out of that interpretation.

 

So the state of Maddy's mental health, while described in some detail in the book, is never named. This wasn't a decision I made consciously; and now that I have become more conscious of it, I'm resistant to changing it. Primarily this is because, unlike books such as Challenger Deep or Every Last Word, my novel is not ABOUT mental illness. Some of the characters in it are afflicted, just like some of the population is. Up until this point, I've always felt that what's important is for young readers to recognize themselves in the feelings and experiences of a book's protagonist -- not necessarily that they have names for all those experiences.

 

But I'm having trouble thinking of similar books for young people that portray mental illness without explicitly naming it. It seems like characters in YA novels are either diagnosed with a named mental illness before or within the course of the story, or they are assumed to be mentally healthy. Does the genre have room for middle ground? And if it does, do you know of books that occupy that space?

 

silhouette

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text 2016-10-13 02:53
Reading progress update: I've read 95%.
Challenger Deep - Michael Curran-Dorsano,Neal Shusterman

'There are many things I don't understand, but here is one thing that I know. There is no such thing as the correct diagnosis. There are only symptoms, and catchphrases for various collections of symptoms. Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, major depression, psychotic depression, obsessive compulsive, and on, and on. The labels mean nothing, because no two cases are ever exactly alike. Everyone presents differently, and responds to meds differently and no prognosis can truly be predicted. We are, however, creatures of containment. We want all things in life packed into boxes that we can label. But just because we have the ability to label it, doesn't mean we really know what's in the box. It's kind of like religion. It gives us comfort to believe we have defined something that is, by its very nature, indefinable.

 

As to whether or not we've gotten it right, well, it's all a matter of faith.'

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