A Book Stack Full of Insight

by Rachel Baker on September 3, 2015

I just had a wonderful week of reading a small book stack recommended by one of the teenagers in my life. Before I get into the books, I want to spend a tiny bit of time pleading with parents to read with their children/kids/young adults. One can learn a great deal about someone by checking out what they read and what specifically draws their interest. I have been humbled and truly touched that ‘the girl’ would share books with me that she thought were incredible.

In our household, we read and game with the kids, but her recommending books is sort of a new development. She and I have always talked about books, and over the last few years, when she reads a required book for school, I’ve also read it. I have always felt it important that someone is there for her to talk with about the books, since required reading for school isn’t often the best or most enjoyable books. This book stack, while on the vast summer reading list was comprised entirely of books she chose.

So, what did I glean from this group of books? This dear young woman is exploring her identity; by which I mean, who she is in a family, who she is in a group of friends, who she might be as a partner in a love relationship and what does a love relationship even mean; and most importantly, who she is in her own mind. And I can’t be more excited for her!

On to the books:
You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle –

I didn’t think I was going to like this one so I started with it. Turns out, it was better than I expected. The premise is five kids, followed on-camera every five years starting in kindergarten, as a way to document their lives for a documentary. The kids are all now sixteen-ish; and they all have experienced things that have made their teenage years a bit awkward. None of them really want to be on camera, though a few of them are trying to be this segment’s star. On the surface, if you are of a certain age, you can’t help but realize the characters in the book is based off all teen movie characters – the jock guy, the popular girl, the slow kid, the super smart kid and the loudmouth rebellious kid. Oddly, the characters reminded me of The Breakfast Club. I didn’t think the writing was the best, but the author did a great job on the character and story development. Each of the kids are struggling with who they are and their roles in the social constructs of school and teenage-dom. They all have a difficult time with idea of airing their lives on camera at this point in their lives; and the directors are finding this to be a bit frustrating. Over the course of the book, the group, who fell out of sorts with each other for various reasons, began to band together to help one of the girls. Being the book is written following “the formula”, this is the climax, the place where the characters begin to change and grow and the story begins to explore identity and the idea that people aren’t always the person you thought they were; that people have silent struggles that cause them to project the persona they want people to see. This was a GREAT book for that lesson.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han –

I won’t lie, when I saw this title, I was a bit concerned. This book is a bit of an exploration of first relationships and what it might mean to be in one…BUT…its also about being “not the eldest” in the family and the growth a family goes through when the eldest leaves. Interestingly, this book was about a diverse family of American father, deceased Korean mother, and three daughters struggling to become young women with few close examples. The eldest had taken on the role of the mother in a lot of ways with the raising of her sisters and the organization of the household responsibilities. When she leaves for college in Sweden (…telling of the amount of pressure), the middle child who has always been deemed less responsible and ‘together’ is left in charge of her youngest. In some ways, this book was a jumble of missed opportunities. The author touched on the family keeping the Korean traditions alive, but seemed to stop with vague references instead of the difficulties this might cause to one’s identity. There also seemed to be a bit of inconsistency to the way the eldest acted towards the book – rather the strong girl who raised her sisters, she became a bit whiny and obnoxious. The author seemed to be trying to explore a sisterly relationship that was slightly off and thus, written as more of a cliche. All that said, I still enjoyed the book. The middle sister was, by and large, the protagonist in the story. I enjoyed watching her growth from young girl to young woman as the story progressed. Her main challenges were in trying to figure out how to balance being a homebody (as her sister had been) to dating and being well-liked and well-respected while still fulfilling her familial responsibilities.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green –

Its important to note I didn’t want to read this book when it went through its marketing hype stage. I believe a hyped up book is never as good as the marketing team generating the hype. I also believe people fall all over themselves trying to write amazing reviews for well-hyped books; and the challenge becomes not falling victim to the hype. That said, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best books I’ve read all year. Truly. I laughed, I sobbed, I silently cried, I got angry, and I was taken aback by the finality of it all. The way the author was able to touch all of my emotions in 300 pages was incredible. The idea of loving someone as wholly as written about in this book, knowing full well, the relationship is going to end almost as soon as it starts in a death…that’s courage. I think maybe if more people loved as openly and intensely, with no pretense as Augustus did, the world would be a better place, for sure.

A Step From Heaven by An Na –

This book is a wonderful short novel of 160 pages about a family who moved from Korea to the United States. The book is another exploration of identity as we follow Young from the time she is four (in Korea) to when she is leaving for college (in the US). This time though, the reader is exploring what life would be like as a child from another country, who learned English (via school) before her parents and thus had to translate and help the parents navigate the new world. The book is well-written with incredible insight as the author is an American-raised child of Korean immigrants. Throughout the story, we experience a life where the child becomes the parent, not just in the sense of helping her parents to assimilate to the new culture, but also in exploring new ideas versus traditional ideas, specific to familial roles. This small book is jam-packed with many different arcs that all start with Young and end with Young. The most difficult part of the book is getting past the first couple of pages – they seem odd until the reader realizes what is happening, and the story is being told from a perspective based on a four-year-old’s memories. I tell you this, because I tried to make this my second book, but it ended up being the last one I read, because I wasn’t “getting it.” Once I did, the reading was easy, and I was rewarded in a way that made me very happy. This book ended up touching a place that most don’t; and when I closed the book, I felt I’d had a gentle reminder to “remember the good stuff.”

Again, my reading week was great! I felt as if I have a better understanding of what my favorite young woman is experiencing in her life – and that she’s reminded me how difficult it can be to be a teenager. I think maybe its time for me to pull out my book stack and all the books that were and are meaningful to me, and share them with her. I look forward to the conversations she and I will have over books in the future, particularly those silent ones that are hiding in our book stacks.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter; or you can follow her at The Crafty Veteran on Bloglovin. You can also follow her writing about women veteran interests at Shield Sisters

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