Sometimes You Just Need a Hat….Book Review: North of Everything by Craig Crist-Evans (QUICK READ!)

Dad sits on the edge of my bed,
his hand holding mine.

I tell him
about my dream,
the stars
like eyes of God,
like an open mouth,
the sky so black
it swallowed
all the sounds. (Crist-Evans, p. 22)

North of Everything is a short little book that encompasses a whole lot of emotion. Written by Craig Crist-Evans, this book is 67 pages of verse novel showing life as it is really handed to us. The narrator, unnamed, moves with his family from Florida to Vermont so his dad can farm again. We learn that his dad is sick of his nine-to-five and wants to be with the fresh air because he feels that it will help him. This was my first experience with verse in a long time. It’s quick and too the point. The writing is very fresh and free.

After moving, our narrator learns two things: first, that his mother is pregnant with a baby and second, that his dad is really sick with cancer. In it’s sparse words, the book shows the truth of dealing with illness in your family. It shows his father steadily decline and how it affects both the narrator and his mother. The narrator spends time at school sleeping and is frequently checked out. Crist-Evans uses the new baby to contrast the struggle of the mother and son to the new child’s experience of not knowing what a dad is. The new child, who the narrator calls Spanky, has no concept of father and was never old enough to get to know hers when he was well.

Eventually, the narrator finds out that being in the beautiful open country does not keep your family safe. As the father diminishes to a wisp of a man in his final days, the mother and son find a way to cope. This is very interesting because Crist-Evans subtly alludes to their lives falling apart. It’s implied, not stated, that the mother develops a drinking problem. The son remains relatively unaffected by this, seeming to understand that his mother needs this to help her cope. He makes a friend who has rabbits. These rabbits, like the baby, contrast birth and death.

The novel ends on a really sweet note, during the spring, as everyone’s lives come back together. My favorite poem in the book details the family out at ice cream together and a stranger makes the mother a balloon hat, telling her that sometimes you just need a hat. The last poem of the book is a bit quirky. The family is at dinner and the baby says her first words. There isn’t a real “closing” poem to the novel as there was an opening poem, but this final poem brings a sense of peace and closure that I do not think a poem written to end the novel would have. Life doesn’t end with a closing note–this book does a good way of showing that. It ends, just as the book ends, in a moment shared with others or alone. A moment that you may not think to be the last word, but is. It was brilliant.

Rating: 3.5 Owls
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Why I liked it:
This book doesn’t get a love–it gets a like. I liked the honesty of the poetry in conveying human emotion. I liked that the boy didn’t spend too much time on his mom’s story when he was more concerned on his own. I liked that it ended on a random poem instead of a poem meant to bring closure. I liked the honesty and grief and coping of this book.

Why my kids liked it:
It’s short enough that they felt successful. Especially for my students on the low end of the reading spectrum, this was a really quick read that wasn’t a challenge. They also liked the story line and how sad it was at times.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Honest emotions about a young man dealing with death, life, and all of the other challenges of life.

Image from barnesandnoble.com

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Happy Reading! It’s cold here!

-Miss Wyoming

First Review: Gregor the Overlander and the Underland Chronicles

I don’t even remember how Gregor the Overlander was suggested to me. One day, it was out of my life and the next day it was in my life. And once is comes into your life, this series is hard to forget!

Written by Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy, Gregor the Overlander chronicles the adventure of a young boy who gets sucked into an underground world. While watching his sister in the laundry room of their run down apartment building, Gregor notices that Boots has gone missing. When he tries to find her, he sees that the air vent has been opened and a weird mist is coming out. Thinking that Boots crawled into the vent, Gregor sticks his head inside to look around and unknowingly falls into a mysterious world built miles and miles below New York City. From giant talking cockroaches to a mysterious breed of people with translucent skin and purple-ish eyes, Gregor is introduced to the Kingdom of Regalia and the Underland. Gregor soon learns that his fate and the fate of the Underland are mysteriously entwined and must go on several adventures to save the Underland from the reign of terror caused by an army of rats.

Here is my amazon review on this book….I think it speaks for itself:
Collins is brilliant! A shame Hunger Games outshone this series!! Perfect for Potterheads (:”

Gregor the Overlander is a fabulous introduction in the world if the Underland. Once I purchased this book, I could not put it down and quickly had the entire series finished. I teach middle school and many of the boys in my class have been passing it around. I recommend this to anyone who needs a good, fictional read. I am a Potterhead and this series easily ranks up there with Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins is brilliant! It’s a shame Hunger Games outshines this series.

***

It truly is ashame that the Hunger Games outshone this series. It reads a little like “City of Ember” in the beginning, but very very different as you move through it. I have many of my kids reading this book as a lot of them have never heard of it. The boys love it! It’s very similar to Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. There are sequential books where the protagonist, Gregor, has to go on missions to save the kingdom, a person, etc. I highly recommend it for any age starting at 5th grade up.

The Quick and Dirty 160 Character Review:
Amazing book! Adventure packed and compelling. Character’s are personal friends. Wish this was going to be a 5 part movie series!

Why I loved it:
I really loved this book because it was different–it opened the doors for me to read Percy Jackson style books. Typically, I get stuck in the “what’s trendy” phase. This is a trendy author writing a little acknowledge series that demands to be felt (John Green, anyone?).

Why my kiddos loved it:
The boys in class love it for the same reason they love Percy Jackson–it has compelling action and a middle school male protagonist. There is sword fighting, war, and some funny scenes. There is also young love, friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie. But mainly, there is just a lot of sword fighting and compelling action.

CLICK TO BUY!

image from barnesandnoble.com

image from barnesandnoble.com

Happy reading!

-Miss Wyoming