Category Archives: ELA teacher

Review of At the Edge of the Universe (Feb. 7, 2017) by Shaun David Hutchinson

at-the-edge-of-the-universe-coverFirst, I need to be completely honest and admit that I fangirl (can I make that a verb?) over Shaun David Hutchinson for his every book, tweet, and the one time that I have met him. I really hope–and have already suggested to him via Twitter–that he appears at #ILA17 or #NCTE17 to promote this book (and, if you do Mr. Hutchinson, I will re-introduce myself in a very professional lady-like way and ask for a picture with you, nothing weird). Violent Ends was the book that hooked me, followed quickly by The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley; those books captivated me with their original structures on top of their excellent story telling. At the Edge of the Universe is the first traditionally-constructed book by Hutchinson that I have read (sorry, Mr. Hutchinson, I haven’t read my copy of We are the Ants, yet).

The novel opens with the line: “I sat beside the window pretending to read The Republic as the rest of the passengers boarding flight 1184 zombie-walked to their seats” (1) only to have flight 1184 “tumble from the sky and crash into Southern Boulevard on the far side of the fence separating the runway from the road” after Ozzie had been perp-walked off the plane to stop him from running away. That event is not a spoiler, but it is indicative of the events that seem unlikely or random until the very end of the novel. In fact, I kept reading the novel because I wanted answers to the missing best friend/boyfriend and the shrinking universe, both described on the back cover, even thought at times I struggled to suspend my disbelief about both situations.

The pleasure of Hutchinson’s works is that the stories and the themes are worth the journey. After finishing all three novels, I was satisfied with the reality of the story but also wanting to reread the novel to fully appreciate the events and lines that I rushed over because I couldn’t connect the dots. I cannot provide more details about Edge because the whole is so much more than the pieces, and the individual pieces make the novel seem more science fiction-y than it is. But the cover is brilliant–and, no, there’s nothing wrong with the image; it is blurry in the center.

Ozzie’s journey is heartbreaking but understandable.  It’s an overwhelming teenage angst; I’m sure some of my students have felt the same as Ozzie, but they would not have been able to put their feelings into the words that Hutchinson crafted. The ending is not neat nor easy (which is why I dislike much young adult lit), but it is hopeful; a wonderful message for teens. I am waiting for the right moment, a student who appears in the depths of despair, to press this book into that student’s hands and say, “You need to read this now. Trust me.” Every high school library, every young adult literature section, needs to include this novel in its collection.

I also want to commend Hutchinson for writing novels with LGBTQ protagonists and characters who are just like my LGBTQ students. I believe that these are mainstream novels that all my students can see themselves in regardless of sexuality and gender but ones that also comfortingly reflect the lives and concerns of LGBTQ students.

Finally, a big thank you to Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing this ARC at #NCTE16. I spotted the last copy and pounced on it like a child on Christmas morning. I embarrassingly gushed on about how much it meant to me to receive this copy to the (much younger than me) young lady who was manning the booth at that moment.

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I Was There: Experiencing Slavery Through Time Travel

For the third week in a row, I have read a book for my graduate course that I think my students would be able to read (much more than the canonized novels), would enjoy reading (much more than the canonized novels), and would have a stronger impact on them as humans (much more than the canonized novels). And of the three I have read so far (the first two were How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Jazz), I strongly believe that Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred deserves a spot in the curriculum.

Butler utilizes a device that would hook most juniors in high school: time travel. My students would think that I had lost my mind to assign them a book about time travel; they know that I am not a fan of YA lit or trendy books. But the topic of the novel is riveting; the main character, an African-American woman, repeatedly travels back in time to the plantation where her ancestors were living (I am being deliberately vague using the word living for anyone who would like to experience the book). She both witnesses and experiences the violence and brutality of plantation life in 1819; Butler’s writes using a first-person narrator so that the sensory details are vivid moreso that third-person description. The narrator even has a few moments of metafiction comparing those events with the ones she had been accustomed to seeing in movies, a definite poke at the reader.

I wrote more about my idea that literature that allows the reader an I-was-there-experience, especially on a topic that is not relatable to the average white, middle class person, is much more effective than a third person narrative in my blog post for the ENG 5010 class. That post is available at Writing (about) Time . You can also read more posts by my classmates about Kindred and the topic of time travel in their posts.

Jazz as Narrative Structure

As I mentioned last week, I am enrolled in a graduate level English course. The course is Contemporary American Literature and the topic is Temporal Play. Last week we read How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had read the book in the past, but the temporal play–a reverse chronology–had not stuck with me. The novel–its plot, its reverse chronology, its place in the canon of immigration literature–has resonated with me to the point that I want to use it in my curriculum in the future. For the time being, I plan to assign the two excerpts that are in our textbooks to my juniors, but I will teach those as immigration literature, a concept that I have not included in the past.

This week’s novel is Jazz by Toni Morrison. I am a little embarrassed to state that I have never read a novel by Morrison. In fact, last year was the first time that I had read or taught any work by her (it was her only published short story “Recitatif”). I own a copy of Beloved but have not been able to bring myself to read it due to the graphic depiction of rape and/or violence.

I am thrilled to say that I love Jazz. Again, like the Garcia Girls, the temporal play is a delight to participate in as a reader. I found the content of Jazz to be very appropriate for my high school juniors and seniors, but I’m not sure that they would have the wherewithal or the stamina to stick with it until the end. Maybe honors or dual credit. Maybe. However, I have taken great pride in this week’s blog for the class. The title Jazz does not have a direct impact on the plot. I wrote my post about how the musical qualities of jazz are Morrison’s structure for narrative. I probably would not have come to that conclusion so readily if I wasn’t already familiar with “Recitatif” both as a musical term and as a narrative structure for the story.

If you would like to read my blog post, please go to Writing (about) Time: Thoughts Concerning Temporal Play in Contemporary Narratives and look for my post titled “Jazz as Narrative Structure.” While you’re there, feel free to read the posts by my classmates and leave us any comments.