Book Review: Girlfriend Material

I liked this book. I picked it up mostly because it was published by Disney-Hyperion and I’ll be attending an upcoming conference with one of their editors. I always feel better if I’ve come with at least one of their books read. Possibly I’ve read more, but nothing comes to mind. Anyway, I started another book from that publishing house, put it down, and picked this one up. Girlfriend Material was a light and breezy read. I liked how Kate, the main character, struggled to understand what it meant to have a boyfriend and be a girlfriend. I think this book will ring familiar with girls who are new to the realm of actual relationships with guys. And Adam is a fun guy to follow around with Kate.

Some parts of the book were quite funny, and while at first I was kind of pissed that the storyline with Kate’s mom wasn’t resolved, I later decided that I liked it better that it hadn’t been resolved. Tammara, if you are reading this, I recommend this book to you. I believe it would hit the spot for you: romance with a small side of steam paired with a bit of family drama, and finishing with bit of humor and sweetness.

Next, something meatier: Where She Went, by Gayle Foreman. If you haven’t read the prequel, If I Stay, I highly recommend it. Wondering if I should re-read it before digging into the next one. It was my favorite book of 2009, even though I’d completely brushed off the idea of reading it because, ohmygodnotanotherbookaboutdeath! Glad I found that signed copy in the used book store that night in Ann Arbor.

Losing Faith In IPS

We’ve lived in Indianapolis for ten months now. The kids have been in school for eight months. As many of you know, we chose the Indianapolis Public Schools deliberately. Having come from a district school setting in Michigan, we knew that we (and the kids) would need to adjust our expectations of education and community. We understood there would be disappointments and frustrations. But, we committed to IPS.

As the year comes to a close, it becomes harder to maintain that hope we had for our daughters’ educations. I still believe that they could go through IPS and graduate with an education good enough to get into college and compete with people from other schools. But some of that belief comes from knowing that they are getting an education in spite of going to IPS. We read at home. We talk about ideas, news, how our values either do or don’t fit in with the people in our lives. We travel a bit. And so as the days pass, and I watch how IPS operates, and I live through seeing how it affects my girls, I am beginning to lose my faith in a public education for my kids. Sure, the education is good enough and being a part of the city of Indianapolis is an interesting and valuable cultural experience, but its also stressful, lacking, and sometimes an exercise in mere coping.

For instance:

My first experience with going to school function (a series of one-act plays) resulted in me getting candy pieces repeatedly flicked at the back of my head while the principal took ten minutes to get the students settled down enough  to watch the show. The lecture he gave on how to act as an audience and how to show respect was shocking for me. I was sad that grades 6 – 12 still needed someone to tell them what it meant to be respectful. To be clear, I’m not blaming IPS for the kids being disrespectful. I’m just noting that its sad (and a waste of time for my kids) that Education at this point has to focus so much on behavior instead of academics.

For instance:

Manolia’s substitute teacher. Her regular teacher had a baby in mid-February and has been on maternity leave since. The long-term sub that was planned to replace her walked off the job (as I understand it) after her first day. This resulted in a different substitute teacher that has had my child in tears on a regular basis for the last month. She had Magnolia believing that the word ‘microbe’ was pronounced my-crow-bee. While this frustrates me, I understand that this sub is not trained to be a teacher. I understand that the school has a certain pool of substitutes it must draw from. But enduring a class monitor for six weeks is very long haul for a fourth grader. Last night Maggie came home with  more than three and a half hours of math homework: concepts that were brand new to her and that Josh had to teach her. Maggie felt terrible that she didn’t understand it. She felt exhausted from working and concentrating for such a long period. She hadn’t even gotten to her Spelling homework. We actually encouraged her not to do it. We actually told her that her sub was not a person that we felt like we or she needed to take seriously. Respect her at school, sure. But realize that she doesn’t understand how to be a teacher and we were going to have to work around her expectations and inexperience.

For instance:

The letter that came home from Eleanor’s school regarding how troubling it was that the school could be facing a state takeover. Yes, very troubling. It’s the only IPS school that values the arts and humanities so highly. But what’s even more troubling is that the letter was so poorly written. Granted, I may have higher expectations of grammar and usage than most people, but I want to be outraged with my community. I want to stand up for this school. But for fuck’s sake, give me a few reasons!! Because I’m running out of hope.

Book Review: Girl

I think Blake Nelson may have just become my favorite author. Every time I read something of his, it’s such a different kind of book from the time before. I think I’ve only read three of his books, but whatever. You know how when you read a book and you feel like you know the author and their views on life and their sense of humor? Well, that doesn’t happen for me with Blake Nelson. It’s like he’s so far into his imagination, there’s only the characters in the book, and not him. I don’t know Nelson, but I doubt very much he was much like fashion-obsessed, groupie Andrea Marr. I also don’t know if this is a superior kind of writing to when the author is all over the pages, or not. I like it both ways, personally. But, I think I respect Nelson for keeping himself secret. Or at least, seeming to.

In this book, Nelson looks into Andrea Marr’s sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school, as she finds her way out of the high school social scene and into the indie rock scene, in Portland, in the 1990s. I finally checked to see the publishing date when reading passages that used the word “tapes” and passages that talked about AIDS and Magic Johnson as if it were current. And there were no cell phones or Internet. The book was published in 1994. Maybe that’s also why it seemed so interesting to me – I graduated high school in 1993. But, when was the last time you read a YA that spanned three years? I was so pleasantly surprised at this. The book read so fast, months passing in a three-sentence paragraph. Most of the scenes seemed like if they were a movie, they’d be in long shots. Except the sex scenes, which were more than I’d ever seen in a single YA book, but all of which seemed relevant and one of which was the best sex scene I’d ever read. I don’t mean for its heat-factor either; Nelson was a genius with the way that he made it not only from a girl’s perspective, but how his character began to understand the world of girls and boys and women and men and sex because of it.

The formatting of the book was block text paragraph run wild with run-on sentences. Almost EVERY sentence started with And, And then, or But. Loved it!  I haven’t read a YA book with such authentic sentence styling since how i live now, by Meg Rosoff. I can’t get the main character’s voice from Girl out of my head! Probably this review has run on sentences because of it. I bought the paperback because I like the cover. This cover is perfect for the book. I totally saw this girl as Andrea as I read the book, and she is adorable. The hardback cover looks boring and dark.

One thing that was similar to Paranoid Park was how the ending was a bit of a flip off. That kind of makes no sense, but that’s what it feels like. The book takes its toll on you like it should, and you think you’re coming in for a landing, and you are, but then Nelson’s like, did you think we were landing here? And he flips you off really quick, and that’s the end of the book. It’s not even what I’d call a surprise ending. It’s just a fun jolt. It’s not a complaint from me, either. I like it. And one last thing: the title. I kind of was like, Girl?? Really? I know one-word titles in YA are all the rage but can’t we do better than that? And then I read a scene very close to the end of the book where Andrea is talking to her best friend Cybil for probably the last time, and it made perfect sense! I shouldn’t have doubted the title.

Book Review: Flash Burnout

Flash Burnout is a perfect YA book. Well, the story is perfect. I’m not digging the cover so much. And, while the jacket copy was clever, it didn’t give me an accurate sense of the story – the frame of the story, yes, but the heart of the story, no. I may not have read this book if it hadn’t have won the Morris award.

This is definitely going into the “I Wish I Wrote This” category. The humor was so exactly my kind of humor, the struggle was so wonderfully relatable. I hugged the book, and talked to Blake-the main character-and laughed with him as if he were present. I really felt like we were in this thing together. It was a wonderful feeling.

LK Madigan found ways of describing life and making her characters struggle that made me feel like we had the exact same values. Either we did, or she’s a tremendous writer. Maybe both.

I found out while reading this that LK Madigan was suffering from pancreatic cancer. I think it made the book even better. Reading her last blog post where she makes peace with her own mortality, had me weeping well into the night, and touching my own family’s realness a little more than usual.

LK Madigan died this past week. I almost didn’t want to finish her book. But I did. And I read this passage where Blake is describing his girlfriend whose grandmother passed away: “I glance over at Shannon, who is sitting a few feet away in a sunny spot with Kaylee and Jasmine. Her grandma’s funeral was last week. She’s back at school now, cheering up little by little. Sometimes when she laughs at something, I see a look cross her face like, How can I laugh when my grandma just died? But people die. All the damn time. We have to grieve and then keep living.”

I feel exactly like that.

Jody Sparks Alphabet Z

Here it is: My alphabet conclusion. And because Erin started this meme, I’m ending it the way she did!

Z is for Zero. Here is a list of things I’ve done zero times: (Anything with a star means that even though I haven’t done them, I’d like to.)



– Won a game of Chess.

– Finished the Twilight series.

– Read Pride and Prejudice.*

– Been in a fist fight.

– Been to New York.*

– Been to another continent.*

– Eaten at Hooters.

– Kissed a girl.

– Had a My Space account.

– Met a president.*

– Published a young adult novel.*

– Owned a cat.

– Ridden a unicycle.

– Had a son.

– Been in an ambulance.

– Gone skydiving.

– Attempted to get on a reality TV show.

– Hailed a cab.*


Jody Sparks Alphabet U – Y

Spelling Bee update: We got there thinking there would be one more Bee before Nationals. Wrong. There was only to be one winner, and that kiddo went to Nationals. So, there was an additional amount of pressure. Eleanor made through two rounds, and went out on the third round with ROTUNDA, which she spelled Rhotunda. She got too fancy from all that studying, I think. Anyhoo, she looked great! When she was spelling, she was all calm and confident. And she went out with grace and dignity. And I’m really impressed with how hard she worked! Here she is trying to get a grip on her nerves, pre-Bee. Officially she placed 20 out of 40, I think.

Okay. On to my alphabet games. I’ve got the weird letters today. Erin’s alphabet turned out so great; I feel pressure to be amazing. Also, she said we could double to Prom. YES!!!

U is for Undo. Still looking for the ctrl + z button for life. I’d definitely undo the Spelling Bee, undo a few recent deaths, undo a few things I’ve said over the years. I’d be picky. Failure is not an auto-undo, but some failures? Gah.

V is for Vonnegut. Kurt. “Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

W is for writing. Another Vonnegut quote: “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way to make life more bearable.”

X is for Xi and Xu. Scrabble words. Use them.

Y is for Young Adult, and all the barrel-fulls of problems they offer up to writers. There is no excuse for a lazy plot in young adult fiction. It’s practically impossible. Don’t be gentle either. See letter S. And L.

Jody Sparks Alphabet P – T

Day four of the alphabet game. And speaking of letters, Eleanor has correctly spelled all fourteen lists worth of study words. Now we review. Tomorrow is the day, folks! Her favorite word is bolshevik. Mine is schnecke. And gesundheit.  And tchotchke. Anyhoo —

P is for Precious. I think you can only pull off using this word if you have kiddos. And this one certainly applies to Magnolia. Looking back, she should have been M, but P definitely works. As you may know, P is my favorite letter. I once wrote a whole post about it. (This is my challenge to Erin: Write a post about your favorite letter, or least favorite. You can TOTALLY have a favorite.) And sweet Magnolia should definitely be in my favorite letter spot. She is practically perfect. In fact, I think I just told someone the other day, it’s possible she’ll grow up to be Mary Poppins. Her goodness is so pure.

Q is for Qi, which is a legal Scrabble word. So is qat, qaid, qadis, and suq. And that is super Qool!

R is for Rats. They make good pets. Don’t rule them out. They enjoy being handled and never bite. One might end up in your bed in the middle of the night because it’s so smart that it got out of its cage, but at least it found you to let you know that it was out. Plus, Josh is there to remind you that its a pet. NOT vermin.

S is for Suffering. Can’t have Love without it. See letter L. It’s also for Stargirl, my favorite book.

T is for Talking. Sometimes I ask people questions that I could easily Google. I mean, I literally sit with Google for about 10 hours a day. But I need people. I need talking. We’re in this thing together! So, go ahead and tell me to Google it. I just wanted to hear your voice.

Jody Sparks Alphabet K – O

Saturday Morning. Finished Flash Burnout yesterday. I was moping because it was over. Josh asked me if he should buy my flowers. He was only kidding in part. He gets it. Some books are like that. Looking forward to writing in my own book today. It’s nice to feel inspired. Now, on with the alphabet games!

K is for Kissing. It’s so fun. Still.

L is for Love. Because it makes the world good. Like the movie says: “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.” – Prime Minister, Love Actually

M is for Mugele. It’s MYOO-gull. Not muggle. Though, in its way, muggle is apt. I am not a wizard. Just call me Jody Sparks.

N is for Navy blue nights. Like in college when Josh and I would stay out past curfew walking the Tennessee hills; and it was so easy to feel flawless; and it was so easy to fall in love.

O is for Ocean. When we lived in Half Moon Bay, in a tiny basement apartment raising two squirmy kids, I would press my face to the glass of one of the windows farthest West, straining to catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. If the trees at least stood still, I had an ocean view. And that made the other sacrifices worth it.

Jody Sparks Alphabet F-J

Day two of the Alphabet posts. This is the perfect way to spend my time between waking up and the kids two-hour school delay. I feel edgy though, like I’m running late. And there’s the small matter of getting my car out from under the snow and ice. I think this day is going to feel weird.

F is for Feelings. I’m endlessly fascinated by how they direct our decisions. I’m trying so hard right now to really learn what that means for a writer’s craft. It’s a lot harder than it seems.

G is Go. I’d prefer a very sedate lifestyle. “Go” is such a simple word; I like how it can make big actions seem conquerable.

H is for Hunger. I swear I’m hungrier than most people, and I don’t just mean for food.

I is for Indiana. It’s not the worst place to live, but it’s also not the best. I’m not a huge fan of mediocre. Who is? That’s why we have the word “mediocre.” I won’t be sad to move again.

J is for Josh Mugele. Duh! How could I resist this?

Also, tonight and this weekend: Spelling words with Eleanor. I’m hoping over the weekend we can watch Spellbound and Akeelah and the Bee. Weird that I’ve seen neither? Maybe.

I’ve been having  a hard time shutting up about the Spelling Bee with my coworkers. Thank you for coping with that, guys! Like I told them, this is my version of being an annoyingly proud soccer mom. Anyway, here are some cute videos that we’ve been passing around.

The Jody Sparks Alphabet

Challenge accepted!!

The lovely Erin McCahan, over at Beach Notes is taking the week to post a personal alphabet in which she gives us snippets of her life and personality, letter by letter. She was basically like, “You do it, too. Or I’ll fill your locker full of Rice Krispies and ask your crush to go to Prom with me.” So, what’s a girl to do?

Also, I like Internet and blog memes. You guys should join in! Today’s letters are A through E.

A is for Amy. My sister taught the meaning of best friendship when we were kids. I think that’s rare. I wish it wasn’t. What I know about loving people–it’s mostly because she showed me.

B is for books. Young Adult Books. Big surprise. I love them. You all know this. I’m going to write  a blog post pretty soon about the one I’m reading now, Flash Burnout. I’ve never been so emotionally involved with a book. The way I feel about it is possibly abnormal. Prepare for an effusive post.*

C is for Ca-ca. Which is how I feel about this letter. It’s my least favorite. Especially in Scrabble. There are no two-letter words that you can make with a C. V is the same way, but I forgive V because it’s fun to make the V sound. It tickles. Vvvvvvvvvv.

D is for dog. Mine is snuggly and grunty and wonderful. Tonight Magnolia said, “he smells like tuna, butt, and barf.” Hearing that sentence come out of her mouth makes owning a dog awesome!

E is for Eleanor. She loves spelling words, loving animals; and she is brave. She loves her sister like my sister loves me.

*While drafting this post, I learned that the author, LK Madigan, passed away. I’m really sad.