Monday, April 29, 2013

Resources for The Great Gatsby

With Baz Luhrmann's movie version of The Great Gatsby scheduled to come out on May 10, I have to imagine that I'm not the only one re-reading this book right now.  I have loved Gatsby since I first read it in high school, and it's one of those books that just gets better every time I read it.  I read it again in college, and I have now taught it to high school juniors three times.  I may not love Gatsby quite as much as my friend Alicia (a fellow English teacher), who once memorably proclaimed, "I would marry Gatsby if I could--the book, not the man.".... but I am definitely a big fan.

When I was preparing to teach Gatsby to my juniors this year, I used my librarian skills to create a pathfinder to guide students through the novel.  The website I created features information on various Gatsby adaptations (including the upcoming movie and Jake, Reinvented), biographical information on F. Scott Fitzgerald, information to enrich undrestanding of the historical context of the novel, resources for teachers, and study materials and extensions.  For any teacher that wants to use these materials in the classroom, or for any Gatsby fan who wants to enrich their personal reading, feel free to check it out.  You can access the site at

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review: Cycler

During a recent stop at my library, I checked out Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin.  I read and enjoyed her Scored last summer and was interested to see what else she had written.

In Cycler, high school student Jill McTeague has a very unique medical problem.... for roughly four days a month, she turns into a boy.  Basically, Jill herself completely disappears, and Jack is left in her place.  Jack is anatomically, mentally, and emotionally male--a completely separate person from Jill.

Jill's parents, of course, are horrified by the situation.  When Jack appears, Jill's mother locks him in Jill's room and refuses to let him have any contact with the outside world.  And as soon as Jack morphs back into Jill, their mother leads Jill through a creepy meditation exercise and mantra of "I am all girl" to erase her memories of Jacktime.  (But because Jack does not engage in the weird meditation, he can access all of Jill's memories.)  Jill's parents have told the school that she has a "rare blood disease" to account for her monthly absences.  No one else knows her secret, and for 24 days a month, Jill tries to live a normal life.

Because she has yielded so much to her super-controlling mother, that "normal life" is incredibly girly.  One might assume that Jill would be consumed by feelings of worry, anxiety, or horror because of her condition, but no--all she thinks about are clothes and boys, and the ultimate pinnacle of both of those topics, prom.  In particular, she and her two best friends spend all of their time plotting how Jill can win the attention of Tommy Knutson and convince him to ask her to prom.

Jack, on the other hand, is primarily obsessed with pornography.  I also found this to be kind of ridiculous.... Really, if he only gets to live for four days out of every month and isn't allowed out of Jill's room, don't you think he'd be at least a little bit curious about the outside world?  But no.  Apparently the only topic that he has accessed from Jill's memories that interests him at all is Jill's best friend, Ramie.  Jack is convinced that he is in love with Ramie, and for her, he tries to break free of the prison that Jill's mother has built for him.

I felt much the same about Cycler as I did about McLaughlin's Scored.  Both had an awesome premise and the potential to develop into a fascinating story.  But both fell back on heavy stereotypes for their characters, and the conclusions of each felt forced and way too brief.  Cycler had the potential to be amazing, but in the end, it was just mediocre.  That being said, I am still interested to find out what happens to Jack and Jill, so I do plan on reading the sequel, Re-Cycler.  We'll see if that one leaves me with a better impression!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: Wake

Last week, one of my students came into my classroom all excited.  He announced, "Mrs. Pfanschmidt, I just read the best book--you need to check it out!"  And so I did.  That very night, I went to my library and picked up Wake by Lisa McMann.

In Wake, 17-year-old Janie has a far-from-ideal life.  She lives with her single mother, who has been emotionally distant and reliant on alcohol for as long as Janie can remember.  They live in the bad part of town, and Janie's income from her job at the nursing home is pretty much all that keeps food on the table.

But these problems all seem simple compared to Janie's real struggle: the dreams.  Any time Janie is close to someone who is dreaming, she gets sucked in.  She witnesses their dreams--and their nightmares--and she is powerless to pull herself out.  Physically, it looks like she's having some kind of seizure.

When Janie was a child, she wasn't around very many sleeping people.  But now, between her high school classmates falling asleep during classes and the nursing home residents dozing at all hours, Janie is bombarded by dreams.

And then there's Cabel, the mysterious loner from Janie's neighborhood.  She sees herself in one of his dreams, and eventually he learns her secret.  But can Janie really trust Cabel, or is he keeping secrets of his own?

My student was right--I loved this book.  I was sucked into Janie's story as thoroughly as she is sucked into other people's dreams.  I just couldn't put the book down.  When I finished it (less than 24 hours after checking it out), I immediately starting thinking about picking up the sequel, Fade.  I recommend Wake for any fan of YA fiction, either male or female.  I definitely plan on reading more of McMann's books in the future!