Jennifer R. Hubbard’s Try Not to Breathe

Published in: 2012Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.21.20 PM

Pages: 233

The protagonist: Ryan, 16, an introverted and tragically misunderstood recent survivor of a suicide attempt. He has just left residential treatment and is working on acclimating to life at home post-hospitalization.

The gist in 100 words or less: A local waterfall is Ryan’s safe, get-away-from-it-all place. One day, he runs into Nicki, who Ryan only vaguely knows to be the younger sister of a classmate. Nicki begins asking Ryan questions about his suicide attempt, and as he struggles to decide whether to answer them, he learns some important things about Nicki and about himself.

Great things: It puts suicide RIGHT out there, in a this-is-a-really-big-problem-and-we-shouldn’t-be-so-afraid-to-talk-about-it way. I loved, loved, loved Nicki, and she’s the one who really insists on bringing everything up. Nicki is an amazing, hilarious, round, no-holds-barred, inspirational character. She wants to talk about things that people don’t usually want to talk about, because isn’t that healthier and why don’t we just ask the questions we have and why are there so many social RULES and…

The portrayal of residential mental health treatment was phenomenal. When discussing his experiences at Patterson, Ryan complains about the things that teenagers would complain about, mentally rolling his eyes at certain aspects of his treatment but at the same time realizing why they’re important. This is SO how a teenager’s logic often works and Hubbard captures it perfectly.

Also, almost all of the other characters. And the connection Ryan and Nicki have. And the portrayal of Ryan’s mother. And Ryan’s voice. And…

Meh: Honestly? The cover art & title. I think I put off picking this one up because the photo on the cover combined with the title seem…a little disturbing. I realize now that the title is a reference to an REM song, and I know I’m not super music-reference-literate, but I’m not sure teens today would know REM that well, either. Not that that means we shouldn’t use slightly obscure music references, but…anyway, the title doesn’t fit, especially not with the photo.

Best quote: (one of them) “Mom went upstairs to watch something else because she said baseball was maddeningly slow, and we settled on the living-room couch. The way baseball announcers talk is very relaxing. It’s like they have nothing to do with the rest of their lives besides watch whatever game is in front of them. Not that I listened to every word. I just liked the sound of it, the stream of facts and numbers and stats and names. It pushed everything else out of my mind.” (82)

Parent/teacher alert: This book is about Big Stuff, which is awesome. It’s important and it’s portrayed in a very real, accessible way. But it’s Big Stuff, and if it were my son or daughter I’d definitely use it as an opportunity to talk about suicide, mental health, compassion, kindness and judgement of others.

There are romantic relationships, but they are gritty and real and sweet. Some making out that doesn’t go any farther than making out.

Read it if you liked: Sarah Dessen’s stuff, Speak, The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Not good for: I imagine someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts who doesn’t have someone to talk to would have a hard time with this one. Other than that…it’s one that I think almost everyone should read.

What my students think: I haven’t pushed this one yet, but I will be pretty much as soon as I see them this week.


The Fault in Our Stars movie news

First of all, if you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, get off the Internet and go. Now. Seriously. Yes, it about cancer. Yes, it will make you cry. No, you should not avoid it. You are missing out. It’s not hype; John Green IS that good and the story is that important and JUST GO NOW.


The film is being cast–release dates are 2014-ish and so far, so good. Shailene Woodley (who is also playing Tris in the Divergent film, due out in March of 2014, holy-major-Hollywood-break, Batman), Ansel Elgort (also cast in Divergent as Tris’s brother Caleb) and Natt Wolff as Isaac.

Other stuff:

Bibliofiend on approximate filming dates/locations 

The Hollywood Reporter’s article on  Josh Boone being chosen as director (February)

The film’s IMDB page


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Aliré Sáenz

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 4.39.23 PM

This was a beautiful book, and you should read it.

Published in: 2012

Pages: 359, but there are many partial-pages, the chapters are very short, and there is lots of dialogue.

The protagonist: Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza, a rather angsty fifteen-year-old attempting to live inside his own head and figure out the world from his vantage point as the youngest-child-by-several-years growing up in El Paso, Texas. We meet Ari in the summer of 1987 in between his sophomore and junior years of high school.

The gist in 100 words or less: Ari has, according to his first-person narrative, never had a friend. As summer continues and Ari seeks refuge from the prying eyes of his parents and the middle fingers of the neighborhood boys, he decides to go swimming in the public pool in town. There, Dante, an optimistic, forward, inquisitive fellow fifteen-year-old boy, invites himself to teach Ari how to swim. Thus begins a unique and unforgettable friendship during which the two boys spend the summer, and most of the next year and a half, attempting to “discover the secrets of the universe”, their families, and themselves.

Great stuff: Sáenz is a poet, and the writing is amazing and profound without being flowery or, surprise surprise, containing a single extra word. Ari is a very round, believable character and my heart broke for him on almost every page–not so much for the Big Things he was dealing with, but because Sáenz does SUCH a beautiful job portraying how difficult it is to grow up, especially when you aren’t Someone Who Talks.

Both Ari and Dante’s parents are pretty awesome, which was refreshing.

Also, there is a dog named Legs, which I found hilarious.

Meh: Not much. I found it a little lame that in the end, which I thought was very well done, Ari purports to have found “all the answers”, which after his very-believable inside-the-head narrative for the previous 358 pages, was a little too serendipitous. He certainly found MANY answers, but all?

Best quote: “Senior year. And then life. Maybe that’s the way it worked. High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you–but when you graduated, you got to write yourself. At graduation you got to collect your teacher’s pens and your parents’ pens and you got your own pen. And you could do all the writing. Yeah. Wouldn’t that be sweet?” (335).

Parent/teacher alert: HERE BE SPOILERS.

Ari and Dante do some what-I-imagine-must-be-very-typical hemming and hawing about using drugs and alcohol, both of which they end up doing, but not without some guilt about What Their Parents Will Think. There are parties, and other teenage characters are clearly more experienced (and less guilt-ridden) at getting ahold of beer and marijuana. Ari and Dante draw a serious line at drinking and driving, and the parents in the story make that line very clear as well.

Also–BIG SPOILER HERE–one of the several Big Issues in this story is Dante’s figuring-out-of his own sexuality, his realization that he “wants to kiss boys” and what that means for Ari and Dante’s friendship, Dante’s family and the way Dante is treated in the community. It is beautifully done, and I think the best thing about this book is how those issues are woven in with all the other Big Issues Of Growing Up, and for Ari it’s just one of the many things that he has to figure out.

Ari and Dante talk a lot about ethnic and cultural differences, and discuss stereotypes about “Mexicans” (wondering if and how they fit into these stereotypes) on more than one occasion.

I would share this story with my own teenage children in a heartbeat. Ari struggles from a very real, honest, good-guy place and just wants to love everyone, even when the people around him make that difficult. I found myself nodding. A lot.

Read if you liked: Speak, actually–I found myself wishing Ari could talk to Melinda, although other than the fact that they’re both coming of age, their circumstances don’t really resemble each other. Anything about friendship and/or coming-of-age young menMy Most Excellent Year, Tales of the Madman Underground, Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have

Not good for: Those who need a lot of action and a fast-paced plot. The story certainly moved along, but the beauty of it is in the emotions of the characters rather than the actual events.

What my students think: No readers yet. I will be highlighting this one this coming year, though–it’s one of those Read This And Become A Better Person books.

Read-aloud is joyful with the Sisterhood

I work at a residential summer camp where cabin counselors read campers to sleep each night, no matter what age they are or whether they are at camp or on an overnight at a nearby campsite.

The other night, I substitute-covered a cabin of teenage girls and got to read them to sleep. They were reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, one of my favorite YA really-girly-in-a-healthy-and-awesome-way books. Read-aloud always brings me back to fourth grade, when we all sat or lay on the rug while Mrs. Petersen read Allergic to my Family and I hung on every word and GROANED when she refused to continue past the end-of-chapter cliffhanger.

As I read to the cabin, the girls asked clarifying questions, gasped, laughed and then…snoring. What a perfect way to get them to sleep without the too-late giggles and “SHHHH”s, and get some literacy/comprehension/context clues in there, guerilla-style.

I kept reading to myself after they fell asleep, and thank God no one was awake (*spoilers* here in a bit so stop here if you haven’t read it!) because I was definitely crying. By myself. For these characters. Carmen tearfully asking her dad why she and Mom weren’t good enough? Tibby working up the courage to visit her dying friend? Brashares does it all so well, so long as you agree that sniveling-in-the-armchair-with-my-headlamp-and-no-Kleenex-while-campers-snore to be a good thing.

If you haven’t read Sisterhood…go. Seriously. It’s so worth it.