Tag: bullying

If I Every Get Out of Here

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

It’s 1975 in upstate New York, and Lewis is a boy entering seventh grade. He’s a kid from the reservation, but the school is out in the white world, and to top it off he’s in the “smart track” where he is the only Indian. He’s determined to make friends in that white world, and the book opens with a scene in which he gets his reservation friend to chop off his braid. It’s not a merely symbolic act—Lewis thinks his reservation-kid status is an obstacle, and the braid telegraphs this.

“You think cutting off your braid is going to make those white kids suddenly talk to you?” (pg 1)

Right on page one, we focus on the thing that Lewis sees as his true obstacle: his Indian-ness.

A few pages later Lewis identifies and then meets the one new kid in his class, George, a white kid from a recently transferred military family. George immediately suggests they visit each other’s homes. Thus, making a friend is quickly dispatched as a problem; instead, Lewis’ problem becomes keeping his family’s poverty a secret as he builds the friendship with George.

“…I know secrets drive you crazy.” I had never thought this about myself, but even as he said it, I realized it was true. (pg. 107)

This contradiction—that secrets drive Lewis crazy, but he’s desperate to keep his reservation life a secret from George—creates a lot of emotional tension and helps propel the story forward through a fairly long time frame, from the beginning of seventh grade through the historic blizzard of 1977.

If you wanted to call this an issue book, you’d have a lot to choose from. Racism? Check. Poverty? Check. Bullying and corrupt local politics? Check and check. But all of this is context. The heart and theme of the book is how true friendship ultimately requires the truth in friendship.

This book is a lengthy read with a introspective tone. The language is smart and humorous, the characters well-drawn and the framework of the book is tied to an exploration of the music of the Beattles. (The intended audience may start this book having never heard of the band, but they’ll be experts before they turn the last page.) The age of the characters means the story hovers in the overlap between middle grade and young adult. This would be the rare book I’d recommend even for teens much older than the characters.  –Haley I.

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Two Awesome Totally Different Books

The first part of every course at NILA takes place during the ten days of residency. For this DR, we covered two books at residency: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina and The Living by Matt de la Peña. So we didn’t do book reviews for these two books since we basically talked about them for hours in person, which is why these notes are brief and informal.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Holy cats! Harrowing. This book won us over with its wit and soul. The title made us (well, those of us who didn’t do our research, like me, I guess) think it was going to be light and funny, but this story is about a girl getting seriously bullied. And it is an awesome book, and there are lots of laughs along the way–but this is a hard-hitting, truth-telling kind of a story. One of those books where you’re not quite the same after you read it. We loved it.  ~Haley I

The Living by Matt de la Peña

This is a non-stop thrill ride. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s cool because there’s a sequel. And you will want to read it right after you finish this one. There was some discussion in class about this book as being very commercial to read for an MFA course. But that’s exactly why I think it was a brilliant choice.

This isn’t a book about what it’s like to have Mexican heritage or be Mexican American or etc. It’s a disaster adventure with both Nature and a shadowy corporate conspiracy as antagonists. Shy, the protagonist, experiences racist BS as one would in the course of daily life. Racist BS matters in the plot, but not in the afterschool-special or problem-novel way. For this reason, I think reading this book, a “plot-driven” book for which you can easily & eagerly imagine the blockbuster summer movie adaptation, was important for the course. (Also, can someone please make the movie of this book?)