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To be honest, this book scared me at first.  Of course this may have something to do with the fact that it was handed to me by a my school’s librarian (aka- my book dealer) with a passing comment about how reading this book will open my eyes to the “wonderful” things that my teenage daughter might be hiding from me.  The book did not (nor my book dealer, for that matter) disappoint.

In a nutshell, this is a book about a girl’s journey into self-realization.  But like the stereo-typical teenager she must do this the hard way…by learning from her mistakes.  I had a really easy time relating to April who is the main character.  I, too, stayed behind and lived with a friend’s family when my parents moved 2 hours away because of my dad’s job.  I also was very book smart, but extremely dumb when it came to topics of sex.  And, like April, there were some parts of my personality that allowed me to be confident and fearless, while at other times I was a follower.

However, what makes this book good, is the fact that it is the perfect way to feed teenagers life lessons, without them looking like life lessons.  Case in point [SPOILER ALERT] – April & Vi have a conversation about the likelihood of getting chlamydia from a toilet seat or hot tub.  April thinks its possible because her boyfriend told her so.  Vi responds back with the teenage equivalent to “your an idiot.”  It reminds me of the fact that I must have heard the “sex talk” 50 billion times from all sorts of different adults, but I still believed the stupid lines I was being fed by my boyfriend at the time because I loved him and he would never lie to me.  Ha!  It literally took until my boyfriend’s friend told me I was an idiot for me to wake up.  Think about how much time it would save for teenagers to just read a book and learn about sex from someone else’s “idiotic” experience.

And if you’re still unsure about reading this book, think of it as the early 21st century version of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”  in book form, of course.

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Let’s face it…I love Margaret Peterson Haddix.  She writes Historical Fiction & I’m a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and she writes Science Fiction dealing with morals & ethics and I graduated with a BS (pun intended- LOL) in Philosophy; so I was all set to enjoy this book.  In fact, when the librarian sent a student during 8th period to hand it to me I jumped for joy…literally.  But after reading it, I’m not so sure what I feel.

The book is a story about a soon-to-be 13 year old named Bethany whose parents start acting weird and drop her off to live with a person she’s never met in her life.  As her time in this new place goes on, people keep thinking that she is someone else.

The premise of the book is wonderful and during the first 205 pages out of a 218 page book, I set at the edge of my seat excited to see what happens next. And then there is the ending…

Literally  Haddix just ends the book.  No dramatic climax.  No comforting closure.  Just the end.  Sure things are wrapped up, but it was like the book was destined to be longer, except the publisher demanded the book go to print.  Or maybe she wanted to write more information, but she didn’t think that teenagers would read a long book.  Whatever her reason was, I was disappointed.

Thank you Spike, from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to write this.

Someone told me when I was marching to make sure I kept a journal so I could look back and remember all the wonderful experiences I had with SCV; and as a typical teenager, I didn’t listen.  Through your writing and your experiences it was like I was there again.  I, too, rode bus 2 when I marched in 2000.  As much as the busses broke down and the seats were uncomfortable and the AC hardly ever worked, there was an energy on the bus that was missing on the rare occasions we were transferred to a charter bus in order to get to our destination on time.  It was as if the old bus seats soaked in all the experiences of the marchers from previous years and then turned around and used that energy to hold the current ones in a protective cocoon.  Somehow, even though I often felt inadequate, it was this energy, this memory, that kept me going.  It told me I was special, that someone else knew exactly how I felt, and there was a reason I was chosen to march with SCV.  Nobody in their right mind wants or chooses to get the crap beaten out of them; but we did it because the emotional and psychological growth we experienced was immeasurable.

I marched in SCVC in 1997 & 1998, then finished as a “rook-out” in A-Corp in 2000…all with the Colorguard.  I remember hearing stories about Spike.  He was like a rock star to us in the Cadet Corp.  When we came to the Hall for rehearsal and his car would be there we would get so excited.  Even 11 years after I aged out, I assumed, wrongly, that these “Marching Gods” never struggled.  Reading about the emotional roller coaster Spike was on during his rookie year was like reliving mine all over again.  I remember being “called out” over the loud speaker on the field for doing something wrong.  After one show, I was told if I didn’t get my act together I would be sent home mid-season.  And after another show, I remember being congratulated for performing my heart out and then just as quickly reprimanded for not keeping in time with everyone else. But as “awful” as these memories were, I will never forget during one of the last sectional rehearsals we had, Allan Dekko (who I swear to this day hated me) pointed the drum sticks he used to keep time at me and simple said “You’ve gotten better.”  Those three little words held it all.  SCV wasn’t about winning or perfection (though we all strived for that) it was about becoming the best you could be.

Now because this is a book review, I suppose I should put some book review stuff into it.  Overall, as a reader you can tell this is Spike’s first book.  There are still some grammatical errors in it and at least one mis-spelling of someone’s name.  However, I get the feeling that Spike didn’t write this book to make money…he wrote it in order to share with others something that he holds near and dear to his heart.  With that, Spike has succeeded.  If you are wanting to read an amazing piece of literature, this book is not for you.  If you want to open yourself up and just FEEL, than this book is exactly what you should be reading.  Any person who has marched Drum Corp, especially if you’ve marched SCV, will adore being swept back into time when we were young, fit, and yes, even a bit cocky.  I never thought of my experiences with SCV in terms of a passage into adulthood, but Spike described it perfectly.  He has a way of being able to express in words (something I struggle to do, especially when I’m around non-SCV people) the strong emotions we all felt as we marched.  SCV wasn’t important to me because of what we did, SCV was important because of who it helped me become.

This is a wonderful, historical fiction novel for the young adolescents.  It is a short story (only 161 pages) about a thirteen year old boy named Samuel and his experiences at the start of the Revolutionary War.

What I find most interesting about this book is the fact that Paulson chooses to focus the story on the experiences of a civilian.  There is no talk of legendary battles or of American War Heroes.  It is just a snapshot of what an average day might look like if you lived during this time period.  In addition, Paulson throws in sidebar-style commentary throughout the book giving the reader additional background knowledge to help make sense of the scenes about to be presented.

As an adult this book may seem very juvenile, but as a teacher it would make a great addition to an early American Social Studies curriculum.  Because the reading level seems to be late elementary and the book is short, it would be easy to read it during class as a read aloud or individually to help Middle School students paint a clearer picture of what life was like during this time period.

O’ Child O’ Mine

Somebody told me once that teenagers are like toddlers, just bigger.  It makes sense.  Both groups are struggling with idea of independence.  Both have frequent mood swings.  And both throw tantrums (Yes, teenagers throw tantrums, too.  Funny thing is they can look exactly like toddler tantrums – screaming, flaying, etc).  But for some reason, even though I have been through the toddler phase, the teenager phase is something that I was not prepared for.  My beautiful daughter.  My sweet, innocent, daughter.  My loving daughter has, at times, been worse than the Wicked Witch of the West.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve raised a wonderful daughter.  But that is the problem.  Somehow my daughter has learned to care too much and that gets her in trouble.  By caring and putting others before her own needs, she makes decisions that get her in trouble.  Her heart is in the right place, but that doesn’t change the fact that the action is wrong.  My daughter’s response? “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Maybe I should have her cut back on the show tunes.

Seriously though – how does one go about teaching teenagers about priorities?  I didn’t learn to put myself first until my late 20’s.  In fact it took me that long because there are some things that I learn better the “hard way.”

I could try to model correct priorities, but in order to give my daughter consequences that sink in, it requires me to give up things because I am a single mother.  For example, if I ground my daughter, there is no-one but myself to be available to stay at home with her to make sure she stays grounded.  That forces me to cancel the date night with the girls I planned.  If I want to make sure my daughter doesn’t sneak out of the house again, I only have me to wake up in the middle of the night to make sure she is still in her bed.

So what do I do?

 

SCV saved my life

When I was 17 & a senior in High School I became pregnant.  Needless to say it was a very hard time for me.  I completely lost sight of who I was.  Everything that I thought made me (music, drama, dance, High School) was being replaced by things foreign (adulthood, mothering).  Top off a bit of post-partum depression & recovering eating disorders and you have a little mess on your hands.

Fast forward a year later and I hit a low point.  I was beyond depressed and I tried to cope by taking an entire package of NightQuill.  Lucky for me, this doesn’t put you in the endless sleep I desired, but instead just makes you really drunk-like.  It was at this point that I got advice from the mother of a good friend of mine.  She was able to put into words why I was having a hard time & her suggestion was to join the Santa Clara Vanguard.

Really?  This made no logical sense to me.  A teenage mother doesn’t just ship her daughter off to her mother’s house so she can tour around the country with a Drum & Bugle Corp.  It’s not appropriate.  It’s not responsible.  And it was exactly what I needed to do.

After speaking to my parents, we rationalized that it was common for children to spend extended vacations with their grandparents.  Besides they knew I needed to rediscover myself & drum corp seemed the perfect prescription for depression – LOTS OF EXERCISE (12 hours running around a football field), LOTS OF SUNSHINE & VITAMIN D (did I mention 12 hours running around a football field?), ROUTINE, LITTLE TIME FOR DRAMA, & MUSIC, DANCE, PERFORMING.

However, beyond all this SCV gave me something a little extra…they embraced me whole-heartedly for what I was and NEVER ONCE judged me.  Since becoming pregnant, I received looks & comments from complete strangers because I was a teenage mother.  The SCV family did none of this.  I was just another family member and was treated as such.

One of my fondest memories was in 2000 during my age-out year.  I had just gotten off the phone with my mother and she was having a rough time juggling the needs of my daughter and the needs of my grandmother.  I was in tears because I was in New Jersey, my mother & daughter were in Arizona, & there was nothing I could do to help.  Rick, the SCV director, came up to me and talked to me like I was another parent…not a 21 year old kid, but a parent.  I don’t know if he even remembers this conversation, but I do.  It was a perfect example of how SCV treats its own.  They don’t judge.  They don’t assume.  Rick & others took me as is, built me up, and loved me.

Revolution is not just your run of the mill historical fiction book.  At its heart, it is about the inner turmoil and anguish the main character, Andi, goes through after the death of her brother.  What makes this books so interesting though, is that Donnelly is able to weave together a story that shows the parallels of the French Revolution with the chaos and frustration one goes through in growing up.  As a reader, you connect with the characters, not because the historical events are fascinating (and they are), but because you can relate to the feelings and emotions of Andi, the 21st century narrator, as well as Alex, the 18th century, underground heroine (of sorts).  As in political revolutions, both Andi & Alex, struggle to reconcile ideas & emotions…and learn what is right versus what is wrong.

Dreams

What I find most interesting about being an adult is that I rarely have any new nightmare-ish themes.  By that I mean the stuff that scared me during my childhood & teen years, is still the stuff that scares me now.  For example…

 

I show up to drum corp weekend rehearsal only to discover that I had missed coming to the mid-week rehearsal (it was a last minute addition that people failed to tell me about).  That wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the guard learned the choreography & drill to the opener, as well as part of the closer; AND nobody had time to teach it to me, so I was side-lined.  Oh…and did I mention the weekend rehearsal was at Yerba Buena High School, the place where we were scared that the gangs were going to come out at night and shoot at us?  – That last part was actually a true story memory that got mixed up in my dream world.  But it had the desired effect of making everything EXTRA scare.
 

I guess for most people these things wouldn’t be too scary, but for me they are.  These type dreams are usually about my perceived failure in light of situations that are beyond my control.  There are many things about myself that I don’t like, but one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that when I put my mind to something, failure is not an option.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work like that.  Sometimes I need to depend on others and they let me down.  While I’ve come to accept this (for the most part) as an adult, part of me still wants to believe that if I try hard enough, others will bend to my will and I can create a future that works best for me.  I have a feeling these nightmares are my brain’s way of humbling me.

To be honest, I really don’t know how I feel about this book.  On one hand, I like the concept and I think that for some people they could get a lot of good information out of it.  On the other hand, the premise of the book focuses on convincing the reader to incorporate more technology and pop culture into the classroom; and I don’t need convincing.

One great lesson I did learn through reading this book- and it was totally unexpected- I realized that when it comes to professional readings, I need to find books whose focus is on application.  I want to learn about examples of things I can do in my classroom, not lessons on why I should change my teaching.

My Embarrassing Moment

I’ve always had body issues.  You know, the typical ones where I thought I was fat, but in reality I was really skinny.  One day, I was feeling particularly ugly & gross and to counteract this feeling I decided to wear a skirt to class that I KNEW I looked good in.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a very bad idea.  It wasn’t so much the skirt per se, but the bit of random circumstances that surrounded wearing the skirt.

My first mistake was the fact that I chose to wear a thong underneath.  I was at the time in my life where wearing such underwear was more of a practical issue.  The way I figured it, I would rather have a little bit of fabric up my butt than potentially a LOT of fabric up my butt.  It also conveniently alleviated any potential panty lines (& yes, I realize that this would never be an issue with a skirt!).

My second mistake was wearing a backpack.  Throughout most of my childhood it was only cool to carry your backpack with one strap hooked on your shoulder.  When I started college though two straps were a must.  The catch was that you adjusted the straps so that the bottom half of the backpack sagged low enough to cover your buttocks.  Are you starting to get the sensation of impending doom?

See, I attended school in California where the weather is usually always bright & sunny.  And even if its not, we never have to worry about snow affecting our everyday lives.  Snow and bad weather was something you visited only.  Because of this, my Junior College was set up on an expansive campus with classrooms clustered together in pods.  It was not unusual to have to trek a good distance across campus to get from one class to another.

On this particular day, I had to go from my music appreciation class located on one side of the campus, to my English class located on the other side of the campus.  There I was with my skirt on, covering my bare buttocks, and my backpack hanging elegantly from my shoulders.

And I began to walk.  As I did, I passed one of my co-workers from my night job and waved “hi.”  He smiled broadly and waved back.  I continued on my journey noticing people staring every so often and thinking to myself, “damn, I look hot!”  After I had been walking for about 15 minutes or so and was almost at my English class a perfect stranger came charging over to my direction.  Without saying a word she grabbed the material at the sides of my hip and pulled down.  Unbeknownst to me, my backpack caused my skirt to ride up and I had been mooning the entire De Anza Junior College population as I walked to class.