Category Archives: non-fiction

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

some-assembly-requiredIf and when my library teens want to discuss what is going on in their lives, they know am available as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or as a resource for finding agencies that can provide further help.  I sometimes joke that I should have had a minor in social work because of all the problems that have been brought to me, but I am mostly just honored that I am a trusted adult to whom the teens will come when they are dealing with serious issues.  Some of my teens have come to me while they were in the process of coming out and/or transitioning, and though I am a very curious person by nature, I have done my best to be supportive without prying.  Out of respect for the difficulties faced by coming out and/or transitioning, I think it is only fair to let the person who is coming out/transitioning take the lead in the conversation. Thankfully, there are brave young people like Arin Andrews who are willing to share their own stories so that transgender and cisgender people can better understand both the obstacles transgender people face and the resources that are available to them as they decide how they would like to move forward with their lives.

I thought Arin did a great job of explaining the process of [female to male] transitioning both simply and thoroughly; the fact that he managed to do so without being didactic was very impressive!  Though Arin’s transition involved both hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, he was careful to explain that there are many people who opt to transition differently and that all choices are valid.  I was especially grateful for Arin’s candor about dating and sex, since I am sure many people are curious about how that all “works,” when one or more of the people in the relationship is transgendered, but don’t know how to ask without prying/being rude.  I think this book would be an excellent resource for someone who is preparing for or struggling with his/her own transition, but I also think it is an important book to share with cisgender teens.  As a woman who feels perfectly at home in the body into which she was born, it has taken years of conversations with transgendered teens to even begin to fully appreciate their struggle.  I can only hope that the open sharing of stories like Arin’s will help future generations to be more understanding and empathetic and that the struggle for trans rights will soon become a part of history.

Happy Reading!

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

laughing at my nightmare I was shocked to see that this book was a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist.  Not because I didn’t think it was deserving, though, but because I was shocked it didn’t actually win!  Shane Burcaw’s self-deprecating sense of humor and unwavering positivity in the face of adversity have already garnered tens of thousands of readers for his blog [laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com], so it comes as no surprise that the book has also been universally well-received.    Continue reading

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

lost city of zI am not a huge reader of non-fiction.  For me to really get into a non-fiction title, it usually has to be about something I really care about (like Say Goodbye to Survival Mode) or read like fiction (like King of the Mild Frontier).  This fell into the latter category.  A friend had recommended this book to me when it first came out, but it kept getting pushed to the back burner.  Finally, I told myself that I needed to take a break from all the dystopias I was reading/listening to and dive into a non-fiction title.  I’m so glad I did!  The details were so vivid and David Grann wrote such a fantastic narrative that I thought to myself, several times, “This would make an awesome movie.  It’s like a real life Indiana Jones adventure!”  Imagine my shock and elation, then, when I heard [on the radio this morning] that it is going to be made into a movie… produced by Brad Pitt, no less.  So awesome! Continue reading

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reality Shock!

Reality_ShockI find it rather amusing that my 9-year-old son can’t handle seeing tiny hairballs on the floor from his beloved pet cat but that he was completely enthralled by the FOUR POUND tiger hairball (picture on pg. 9) that was the size of a basketball!  Looking through these books with my son, I always alternate between fascination and disgust.  And even though my own disgust sometimes outweighs my fascination, there’s something magical about bringing home a book that makes your child jump up and down with excitement and beg for just a few more pages before he has to go to bed.

Some of the most fascinating items in this issue were:

  • the skateboarding mice who can even jump through a ring of fire (pp. 14-15)
  • a woman named Barbie Thomas who, despite losing both of her arms at 2 years of age, has gone on to compete in fitness contests (pg. 97)
  • the man who took a picture of himself every single day for 12 years — a total of 4,514 photos! (pg. 152)
  • the Canadian base jumper who, after becoming paralyzed in a 2004 BASE-jumping accident, now jumps in his wheelchair (pg. 175)
  • the pumpkin artists (pp. 208-209) who are capable of turning pumpkins into sculptures of ghouls, goblins, and monsters

And some of the more disgusting items were:

  • the bedside table made from an actual, stuffed sheep (pg. 29)
  • the Sufi holy man who used a sharp stick to practically gouge out his own eye during the Urs religious festival in Ajmer, India (pg. 41)
  • the short-horned lizards that quirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism to scare of predators (pg. 90)
  • the “snot shots” (pg. 201) from artist Ulf Lundin’s Bless You project, in which people sneezed at a camera without covering their mouth/nose… ack!

If you’re looking for a conversation-starting/engrossing book to share with a tween, the Ripley’s books are a pretty sure bet.

Happy Reading!

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion For Life by Crystal Paine

Say Goodbye to Survival ModeI know my blog is primarily for reviews of books written for tweens and teens… but I also know that there are adults (parents, teachers, librarians, and writers) among my readers.  Therefore, I am taking some liberties and sharing this book review on my own blog as well as my library’s Staff Picks blog.  If any of my readers could stand to benefit from knowledge of a book, I think it’s worth making an exception once in a while.  :-)

Earlier this summer, a patron came in looking for this book because one of her friends swore it was a life changer. I was in over my head with both personal and professional commitments, sleeping poorly, and desperate for anything that could help me change my “barely keeping my head above water” style of living. As soon as I placed a request for the patron, I added another for myself. The very day that I started reading this book, I read the first couple of chapters and started making lists of my priorities, goals, and routines so I could set up a concrete plan for moving forward. I am sure I probably could have worked through things on my own, but it was so much easier to have a step-by-step plan that was created by an author who had “been there, done that.” Although I would like to say my life turned completely around in the week it took me to finish this book, I have to be more honest and say that I’m simply on my way. I’m working on saying no to things that don’t help me reach my goals rather than over-committing myself; I’m working on finely tuning my morning and evening routines to get all of my “must do” stuff done (while letting go of the stuff that doesn’t truly matter); and I’m trying to live by the OHIO (Only Handle It Once) rule I once learned at a workshop about organizing — don’t put it in a pile or on a list if you can just get it done right now. So far, so good. Wish me luck!

Happy Reading!

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Port Chicago 50Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

Happy Reading!

 

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!