Sunday, November 13, 2011

Geek Girl - by Cindy Bennett (with guest post by author!)

Geek Girl is a book I read with a smile on my face.  Not just any smile either.  I read this book with one of those cheesy smiles that you get when you’ve seen something that just makes you say “awww” out loud no matter who might be happening to listen.  Sometimes I had that smile on my face while reading through tears.  Needless to say, I enjoyed this book.  A lot.  I would definitely recommend Geek Girl to a friend for an easy, enjoyable and quick read.
The whole book hinges on a bet.  Jen believes she can turn Trevor, the geeky but cute guy, over to the “dark side” by seducing him and making him become more like her and her friends.  The prize if she accomplishes her goal is a shiny new lip piercing to replace the one she took out to make herself look more presentable for the newest set of foster parents.  On the surface Jen and Trevor couldn’t be more different.  Jen dresses in the typical Goth manner – black and off-putting.  Trevor dresses in the typical nerd manner – button-up shirts buttoned all the way up to the very top.  But from the very beginning at the school dance where Jen makes her first move, sparks fly and as we get to know these characters we are reminded that sometimes people are not what they seem.  Sometimes there is a whole lot more to the story than meets the eye.
Although Geek Girl is a lot of fun and a fairly easy read, it does touch on some tough subject matter with the subject of Jen’s parents.  Jen’s father was abusive and Jen’s mother is in prison.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story line or any spoilers, but I have to say that I was impressed that Bennett handled the voice of a character in the foster system with such care.  After being shuffled around from family to family and getting her hopes built up only to be dashed, Jen is not able to let herself dream of having a stable life. 
 Here’s what the author had to say about her heroine and the subject of foster children ……………
Real Heroes by Cindy C Bennett

In Geek Girl, my heroine Jen is a 17-year-old girl who’s been bounced around in the foster care system, to the point that she’s become bitter and cynical. As she approaches her 18th birthday, she has to start seriously considering what she wants to do with her life. It’s a genuine concern for kids in foster care everywhere, when they approach the age where they will no longer be able to depend on—at minimum—having a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

What do I know about teens in foster care? The truth is, not much. I can spout off all the statistics: about 25% never graduate, approximately20% wind up homeless, nearly a quarter are incarcerated within two years (around half for men), nearly half become pregnant or impregnate someone, around 30% use illegal drugs, many end up going back “home” only to be kicked out and wind up homeless on the streets again. Grim statistics, to be sure. But what does it really mean?

I am fortunate enough to have been born to parents who love me, and to have only had to move and change schools once during my growing up years. When I began writing Geek Girl I had to step out of that life, and imagine what it must be like for a teen who is on the precipice of life. How insecure must these kids feel when they are being rejected time after time, when they aren’t in one school long enough to really make friends. What kinds of walls would one erect in order to protect themselves and their hearts from hurt?

To me, the statistics are extremely sad and alarming, but hardly set in stone. I am of the firm belief that people can choose what they do with whatever it is that life has thrown at you. I’m a huge fan and admirer of people who live lives of horror, and then rise above. A prime example is Dave Pelzer, who writes about his life of severe abuse at the hands of his own mother in A Child Called “It”, and his experiences as a teen in the foster care system in The Lost Boy. His battle didn’t end when he was removed from the violence of his home; a new battle began as he entered foster care.
I think most people feel that when an abused child is removed from their home, then yay! They can begin their life of rainbows and unicorns. Abused kids come with their own set of baggage, and are thrown into what can be the unforgiving world of foster care. By no means am I saying foster care is a bad thing. There are many fantastic foster families. I personally know of a family who took in many foster kids, and kept them all as long as possible, even finding adoptive families for a few of them. I do think that some foster parents get these wounded kids, and don’t really understand how to deal with their specific issues. And that’s where kids like Jen get lost as they pass from one family to another for any number of reasons.

I gave Jen the chance to rise above her own circumstances. She could have rejected everything she was offered with her feelings of suspicion and distrust. But she didn’t. She took hold of what was offered, and found herself in the process. She is only a reflection of people who have come before her who have done the same thing, all of the unsung heroes of our world who have done so themselves.

How did I get into the head of a teen who has lived in foster care for so many years? I began by writing about a heroine I could be passionate about, someone who is willing to allow others into her wounded heart and at least try to imagine what could be hers if she let it. Then I tried to imagine how I would feel if it were me in the same situation. Angry and bitter? Absolutely. Wary and suspicious of anyone saying they want to help? Of course. Scared to death that if I dared to hope I would only be crushed once again? Yes. And then I tried to imagine how strong she could become if she let herself.

Superman and Spiderman are great fantasies, but the real heroes are all of you out there in the world who have survived, and who have become who you were meant to be, who didn’t let life drag you down. I wrote Jen as the type of person who I admire greatly. My fictional story of Jen can’t begin to compare to the reality of you who have done this in your life. You are my personal heroes.

Cindy Bennett's Website:
Cindy Bennett's Blog:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-year-old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny - by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

Imagine yourself walking somewhere in Manhattan when suddenly a young boy, perhaps around the age of eleven, asks you for some money.  What would you do?  Would you stop and give the panhandler some cash to use for God knows what?  Would you not hesitate for a moment and just keep right on walking?  Back in 1986, Laura Schroff chose to keep on walking.  But then something inside her told her to turn around and go back.  To this day, Schroff is grateful she heard that little voice and listened.
Laura Schroff and Maurice Maczyk couldn’t have been living more different lives.  Laura was a successful  single businesswoman.  Maurice was a kid just trying to get by.  Laura was living alone in a luxury apartment, proud of her accomplishments.  Maurice was living in chaos, surrounded by family members doing drugs and coming in and out of his life.  That day in Manhattan their lives would converge and neither would be the same after.
"An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break."   -  Ancient Chinese Proverb
An Invisible Thread shows that one small act of kindness can lead to monumental changes in people’s lives.  Laura Schroff didn’t just give Maurice a meal.  She showed him trust.  She believed in him.  She demonstrated that some people will stay in your life no matter what.  She became his family without ever trying to replace his biological family.  She offered him an alternative view of the world.  Maurice offered Laura many things as well.  Never having her own biological child, Maurice showed up in her life and allowed her to love him.  He taught her the true value of money and the real meaning of lunch in a brown paper bag.  To this day, their relationship endures.
I enjoyed this book immensely.  It is rare to find a book that leaves you feeling like you’re a better person for having read it, but An Invisible Thread was that type of a book for me.  It gave me hope and it put a smile on my face.  I’m grateful that I received this book complimentarily from Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday Book Quote

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.  ~Charles W. Eliot

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir - by Terry Helwig

In Moonlight on Linoleum, Terry Hilwig has written an emotionally charged story of a daughter forced to grow up before her time and become responsible for an entire family when she couldn’t count on her own mother to do so.  Rather than writing her story with self-indulgence and a heavy dose of blame, she manages to tell her story, her mother’s story and her family’s story with love and acceptance.  This combined with excellent writing made the book a joy to read. 
Carola Jean married young in an attempt to escape her unhappy life.  Shortly after, she had Terry.  Eventually she left her first husband and searched for a better life with Terry.  More husbands, more children and lots more destructive behavior later, Carola never seems to find her happy ending. 
Because of Carola’s shortcomings as a mother, Terry is forced to grow up very quickly.  She becomes a mother figure to her many sisters and the love she has for them is amazing to read about.  It’s also heartwarming to read of the love she has for the man she calls “daddy”.  “Daddy” is not her biological father, but the stepfather who she adores and who cares for her and her sisters as if they were his own.  Unfortunately “daddy” is a seismographic driller for oil and his work takes him away most of the time, leaving Terry to deal with the troubles at home by herself. 
Although Moonlight on Linoleum deals with a great deal of painful subjects, the amount of love that Helwig has for her family shines through and this book never once felt like a "woe is me" journey.  It was refreshing to read a memoir that was straightforward and honest but not self-indulgent.  I never expected to feel uplifted after reading this book, but I truly did.  I’m honestly glad that Moonlight on Linoleum was written and I would recommend it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.
 Author Unknown

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Book Quote

O Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson -

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sketch Monsters Book 1: Escape of the Scribbles – by Joshua Williamson & Vinny Navarrete

Mandy is not an emotional child. In fact, Mandy has a problem with showing any emotion of any kind at any time. Then one day her big sister gives her a blank sketch book as a gift with the instructions to sketch something whenever she feels like she needs to express herself. Mandy fills the sketchbook with colorful monsters, the thing she enjoys drawing the most. That night, something magical happens that will forever change Mandy. Through these monsters, Mandy learns that she can express herself in real life and not just on the pages of a sketch book.

I very much enjoyed this short comic book. The pictures were colorful and cute and the story expressed an important message. Sometimes it’s easy to hide behind our art – whether it’s words or music or pictures – but that isn’t really living. Life becomes much more colorful and enjoyable when we embrace our feelings and learn to express them. I would recommend this book for anyone aged 8 and up, but I think children will especially enjoy and learn from it.