Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney

Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.  

by Rob Delaney

rob delaney

I don’t Tweet. I am not even sure if I am able to Tweet from China. (Maybe I could and I just have never had a nice enough phone to send Twitter-twatter out into the ether.) Either way, I don’t Tweet, which put me at a possibly distinct disadvantage when I downloaded Rob Delaney’s recently released freshman collection of musings. As a non-Tweeter, I had no idea who this Rob Delaney guy was, but after doing a bit of post-book reading, I’ve discovered he is the bees knees when it comes to comedians on Twitter. But then again, maybe it was to my advantage to have no preconceived notion of his comedy, as I would imagine it is not easy to translate a regular stream of 140 character humorous reflections into a several hundred page collection of essays.

So, I picked up Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.  blind, but left with my eyes wide open to more than I ever needed to know about some of Delaney’s down south goings-on. I guess it is the nature of comedy to expose yourself to the world, but many times, it is a literal exposure going on for Delaney. Not only do I have an inordinate amount of information about his personal pleasure choices, but I know that he has had an up-close and personal view of another human’s butt hole, as well as that he reciprocated said view to another. Wow!

Rob Delaney’s book is an interesting, although at times slightly odd, combination of marginally humorous essay mixed with recovering alcoholic reflections. Having quickly learned that Delaney makes his living as a comedian, I was surprised as the serious tone of many of the essays. Yes, there are sprinkles of humor thrown in throughout, but it is hard to find Twitter-feed type levity when talking about drunk driving, massive car accidents, hospitalization, rehab, jail time, halfway houses and the continuous struggles of an alcoholic. Had I come into this book as a fervent follower of the Twitter feed that made him popular, I think I would have been disappointed by the serious nature of much of this book. Memoir is probably a more accurate descriptor than humor.

Normally, I can’t wait to get my hands on an essay collection by a favorite blogger or comedian, but this one fell a bit short for me. The mixture between bits of comedy and the seriousness of his struggles with alchol never found a satisfying balance for me as the reader. I either wanted more remorse for his earlier actions (he talks about drunk driving as if it were just another blip on the radar) or I want a more extreme self-depreciative, dark humor. This middle ground just feels awkward. While I enjoyed his writing style, and would probably pick up a sophomore publication, Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.  left me sitting on the proverbial fence, earning an in-the-middle:

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4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

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When 4 to 16 Characters popped up on my reading list, I was really excited to see a book written outside the normal prose form. I think something that breaks the status quo is a huge bonus for young adult books, as students are drawn to the unique and unusual. Lately, I’ve seen several narratives written through a long series of poems, but I like that Hourihan went a different direction- writing the whole book through online interactions and posting. The tale is told through Jane’s private digital journal entries, her posting on fan-fiction web pages, her IMs with friends (and eventually her therapist) and her email exchanges at her high school.

 

Jane’s real life is more than a bit of a mess. Her mother died a year before the book begins and her father has since spiraled into depression and alcoholism, leaving her to fend for herself, a job she isn’t emotionally equipped to undertake. She already attends a special high school, Spectrum, for students with social and learning disabilities, but things quickly degenerate as she feels trapped at school and at home. To relieve the pain of both places, she enters a new world- the digital one. After creating a series of online personalities, Jane retreats to internet forums and fan fiction sites, where she can choose her persona each day. Soon, Jane’s days revolve around these online interactions, her real-world ones breaking down even further.

 

What initially intrigued me about the book, the narrative form, is what eventually lead me to like the book less and less and I continued to read. The online chats and fanfic postings were initially entertaining and a fun change of pace, but they quickly became frustrating to read and a bit tedious. At times, reading 4 to 16 Characters was like trying to read a screenplay.  (At times, I literally *was* reading a screenplay!) I didn’t enjoy following character conversations that interrupted each other, jumped from user to user and were filled with occasionally hard to decipher abbreviations. There is where my age might hamper my love of Hourihan’s tale. The things that bothered me throughout the book may very well not dissuade today’s teenager from reading it. Today’s high school students spend a huge amount of time communicating in these very formats, so what I found a bit bulky and cumbersome may just be second nature to a younger reader.

 

I read this book. I’ve thought about this book. And yet, I still feel like I’m on a seesaw when it comes to how I’m going to rate this book.  There are certain aspects of 4 to 16 Characters that I think are really great for young adult readers, which would promptly be followed up a different piece that I find a bit ridiculous.  In the end, I have to rate it with what *I* thought of the book, even though I think high school students would like it more than I did, so to that end, Kelly Hourihan’s 4 to 16 Characters earn just:

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(With that said, I would definitely buy this book for my classroom!)

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

sure signs of crazy

Words are a whole lot more than just a series of letters thrown together. Words can cause joy or pain. Words can bolster courage or crush dreams. To have a young protagonist who loves words and sees their potential for both good and bad is the perfect set-up for a novel of middle school self-exploration.

There are many things for the teacher in to me to love about this book:

1)      The use of great vocabulary, followed by a direct and easy to understand definition. (Think: A Series of Unfortunate Events) I adore the way Harrington fills the book with amazing words, but then doesn’t leave the middle school reader wondering what they mean. Having a protagonist that loves the dictionary and the words in it allows the author to give simple definitions right in the text of the story. I also love that each word is Sarah’s new “favorite” word, as I too am easily swayed by fun, new words!

2)      To Kill a Mockingbird. What more can I say? The entire book is based around Sarah’s letters to Atticus Finch, one of the strongest characters in American literature. I can only cross my fingers and hope that after reading Sure Signs of Crazy, a student would be curious enough to go search out a copy of Lee’s amazing book. (I’d have these two books displayed side-by-side in my classroom!!)

3)      Important issues are dealt with, but not in world-crushing kind of way. A novel whose protagonist is the survivor of attempted infanticide by her mother and now lives with her alcoholic father could very easily flow into darkness, but Harrington does a super job of seeing the world through the eyes of a twelve year old- jumping between the seriousness of her history, but also the daily concerns of a growing young lady, like her first kiss and the overwhelming options on the feminine hygiene aisle.

 

While the basis of the story is a disturbing one, the reader is able to walk away from the book with hope for the future. We are not a simple math problem of parent + parent = child, but rather have the choice to follow our own dreams and discover what we want out of life. Sarah is not destined to be either crazy or an alcoholic, just because that is what she comes from, but rather has an entire world of words and books ahead of her to help determine her pathway.

Karen Harrington’s latest novel is a must-have for middle school libraries and classrooms and easily earns a solid:

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