Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We'll Pull Out These Memories...and They'll Make Us Feel Safe

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson expresses a fresh take on a common mental illness. Most of Anderson's novels reflect realistic issues; this one, however, drives away from direct teenager problem and the focus is how mental illness affects life as a whole.

Hayley and her father have been on the road for years. After he returned from the war, her father was deeply affected with post traumatic stress; therefore driving from state to state and desperately trying trying to find enough money to pay for food became a way of life. However, senior year was when Hayley's father chose to settle in his mother's old house. Despite Hayley's attempts to get them on track, her father continues to go in and out of an alcoholic state, and the adjustment to public school is not an easy road.

As her story continues, Hayley is affected by the memory of her childhood; her father's absence, her step mother's alcoholism, her grandmother's loving touch and care. Her father slowly begins to spin further out of control; between his alcoholism, recreational drug use, and inconsistent temper its no wonder her life is a complete tornado.
When Hayley meets Finn, a charming swimmer from school, she tries to put a wall up to avoid anyone getting too close to her. The more time she spends with him, however, the more she realizes the two aren't so different. But her happiness seems to be a sham because she realizes her life will never be the picture perfect dream she could ever hope for.

The concept of Anderson's novels usually reflect a teen who needs to find their way. Her father's mental illness continues to affect Hayley to a point where she cannot even consider her own future without worrying she'll be leaving her father in a state of depression and despair. Her past troubles resurface, but it isn't until she begins to accept and move forward that she realizes life is hers to live.
This novel goes inside the brain of a past veteran, but also shows how one can accept and live with the memories too painful to forget. Finn's character provides comic relief, but he also serves as an anchor that Hayey desperately needs. His life is no happily ever after either, and the more she finds out, the more she is able to open up and take down the wall she has surrounding her.

I honestly believe this book will give readers, especially young adults, a new view on post traumatic stress. It's something heard about, but never truly understood. And although the veterans are the ones who suffer internally, the impact it has on a family, however broken they are, is devastating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The End of Innocence

I should be ashamed because I had never fully read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I also don't teacher British Literature, so I never had to return to this classic novel. Recently, a few co workers and I took a field trip with a handful of kids to see Lord of the Flies being performed by high school students. After that, I had to read it.

The story starts with a group of boys ending up on a deserted island after experiencing a plane crash. All the boys find each other, and soon, because they're English, which implies apparently they are best at everything according to Jack Merridew, they decide to set up rules and elect a chief in charge of the rules and affairs; at least until they are rescued.

Ralph is elected, and although all seemed well, it isn't as easy as it seems. The littluns, or small kids, find it hard to follow the rules because their attention spans are small, but also they are too weak to build shelter and hunt for food. Meanwhile Jack and his group of hunters are obsessed with finding the pigs on the island to hunt, stab, and kill so they can claim their prize and prove their strength. Boys start to wander away, others lose interest in Ralph and Piggy's wise words, but the two try desperately to keep everyone together and civilized.

Slowly, Jack and his hunters become more and more obsessed with revenge and power, which leads into their savage ways. Ralph attempts to pull them back, but then the struggle begins. Jack and Ralph are at odds on who the proper chief should be, Piggy and the rest of the boys choose their sides and are then separated, on top of this- the boys claim they have seen a beast on the island, which could lead to their demise. 

The novel shows human nature at its finest. We are prone to become savage especially when it comes to control, power, and survival. We panic when there are no "rules", but even when there are not everyone follows and agrees. And it seems someone will always be jealous of the power some hold. It is truly the loss of innocence. The best intentions often lead to a disaster, and it is no different here. It goes to show how much faith Golding had in the human race, but also how quickly we can go from being civilized to becoming savage and full of raw emotion.

Great classic novel, and it is probably the ONLY reason I would want to teach British Lit. in the future. Definitely worth a read if you "missed" this one in high school. Worth it to see the journey of these young boys, how they do fair at surviving, but it's truly interesting to witness how they become too far gone that it is hard to come back.