This book, revised and updated by the author and subtitled “The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother,” is an incredible eye-opener. Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the series that inspired this book, does an impressive job of just telling the story. She also tells us how she can tell it, and how and why she became a part of her own story.

The use of the word ‘odyssey’ is intriguing. This is definitely a journey story. Enrique is not returning home, per se, but to a kind of home, namely his mother, who, like a just astonishing number of mothers (an increasing number of whom who are being abandoned by their husbands), leaves her child behind in order to go to the United States.

Nazario does not shy away from the flaws of Enrique and those who surround him, but it’s clear her seemingly dispassionate presentation is meant for us to see the absolute, unmitigated wrongness of this situation. Her commentary, when it finally comes, seems tacked on. I wondered what it would it have done to the book if the background information was interspersed at appropriate intervals throughout the book. But perhaps that would have interrupted the momentum (and suspense) of the story. After all, once Homer sets his story in motion, he gets out of the way.

This book will change you.

This summer, I am teaching a creative writing course at a local juvenile justice center. It’s my effort at tikkun olam. It’s what I can offer, and there are many who say it can help those teens who are incarcerated. I did some research and found information about the Pongo method and was intrigued. It’s a good book. Though I’ve never understood the designation “at-risk,” (isn’t everyone at-risk, especially teens?), I think the book itself is useful. Gold provides a compelling combination of theory and practice that gives me the confidence to move forward  with more specific lesson plans. There’s guidance here about how to listen, take dictation, structure your session, deal with sensitive topics, etc.. This book, together with the website ( will serve me during the summer and the school year.

A gentle and stunning book about Michael, a member of a string quartet, who finds himself with the unlikely opportunity to try to return to a crossroads in his life and take another path. He proceeds in fits and starts, with some successes and some disasters, and while he is not completely successful, he does find some measure of redemption in the end.

I am far from an expert in classical music, so I can’t attest to the authenticity of those sections, but I found them successful and moving. The sections set in Venice were especially beautiful.

The only bit of dissonance I felt about the book was an effort to locate it in time. The emphasis on classical music sets a very particular tone and when modern things would intrude, it seemed jarring, perhaps deliberately so.

I want to believe that Seth is right, that we can recover from our mistakes, if not completely, then with at least some modicum of grace.

I love Richard Price’s work. I know he gets a lot of credit for his dialogue – and he should – but his ability to sketch out a world in just a few apparently easy and deft strokes – is just remarkable. A few words, and you are just right there. You are ready to be out there, doing the night shift, patrolling New York’s streets and your own life, between the hours of midnight and 8am.

I was bothered by Price’s decision to delay a key reveal until very late in the book, but upon reflection, I don’t see any other way he could have done it. We all have our whites (Moby Dick allusion); it’s just that for some of us, even naming it is the accomplishment.

One of the final speeches, made not by the main character, but by one of his friends, moved me to tears.

That’s the thing with Price; it’s all just so real.

We’re deep in Rick Riordan land here at the house, and my son wanted me to read this one, one of the first I brought into the house. It was an effort to bridge the gap between his comic book stage and novels. And it worked. He’s absolutely hooked into Riordan’s stuff and has pretty much finished it. We’re working on finding him alternatives until Riordan’s new series comes out in September.

In any event, our son, 8, warned me that now that he’s read some of the novels that he didn’t think much of this graphic novel adaptation anymore. You know what? He’s right. Venditti’s adaptation moves between quips and lengthy, awkward and sudden exposition. I found Powell’s art overwrought. The books are better. Mythological tales seem a natural fit for graphic novels. This one just doesn’t work.

It would be easy to dismiss this collection, a Pulitzer Prize winner, as just another nature collection, but that would, I think, be to miss the point. Sure enough, there are flowers, but the persona, perhaps Gluck, is angry. Her tone with her listener (God?) is aggressive. Consider –

What is my heart to you

that you must break it over and over

like a plantsman testing

his new species? Practice

on something else.

Note the imperative – practice. And the slightly dismissive tone inherent in that word choice.

Gluck has boundaries on her mind – between time, especially seasons, and between humans and their version of God.

As for why there are 9 poems called “Vespers,” no idea!

This is less a book to read and more of a resource book. Gallagher offers his rationale for her 9 reading reasons (1. Reading is rewarding. 2. Reading builds a mature vocabulary. etc.) and then provides comprehensive and concrete mini-lessons to use with students in order to try to help them find their reason to read. There is nothing to argue with here. It’s a book I’ll keep on the shelf. I’ll try pretty much anything to get students to read. So I look forward to trying some of Gallagher’s ideas with my students.


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