Tag: road trip


Module 7: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

October 21st, 2012 — 11:27pm

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is realistic fiction about a girl, Mia, who is in a horrific car crash with her parents, who die on the scene, and her younger brother, who dies in the hospital. The story is told through flashbacks as well as the present, where she is witnessing the events from outside of her body and deciding whether she wants to stay alive or die with the rest of her family.

SUMMARY

Mia is 17 and a senior in high school; she is also a star cellist, who has auditioned for and is awaiting acceptance to Julliard. She has super cool punk rock musician parents, an adorable younger brother named Teddy, and a rock musician boyfriend, Adam. All is going swimmingly in Mia’s life until her family decides to drive to visit their family friends, Henry and Willow and their new baby, and are hit by a four-ton pickup truck. Mia is amazed to see herself standing on the side of the road, witnessing the devastation of the car and the carnage — pieces of her father’s brain are on the asphalt, her mother died of internal bleeding that has caused her eyes to turn red, and she’s horrified to see the hand of what she thinks is Teddy but soon realizes is her own hand. She’s in a coma and is having an out of body experience.

She’s taken to the hospital and operated on, and she watches the nurses and surgeons interact. She watches her grandparents arrive at the hospital, which is when she realizes that Teddy has died as well. She watches as her best friend, Kim, arrives with her mother, and finally, who she’s been waiting for, Adam arrives. He tries to get to her room but one of the nurses stops him. He and Kim come up with a plan to cause a distraction with the lead singer of the famous band that Adam’s band is opening for on their concert tour, but nothing works until Willow, her family friend that works for the hospital, gets them to allow Adam to visit Mia.

All of this is interspersed with flashbacks detailing Mia’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, her relationship with Kim, playing the cello and excelling, auditioning for Julliard, her relationship with Adam, the difficulties of falling in love as a teenager and having life take you in separate directions.

One of the nurses tell Mia’s grandparents that they need to give Mia reasons to want to stay here, that it is all up to her, so her family and friends come to talk to her. It is finally Adam who plays cello music in her room and speaks to her:

“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

Then it is Adam who lets go. His sobs burst like fists pounding against tender flesh.

Mia finally makes her decision and feels all of the physical and emotional pain of her body as she wakes up. The novel ends with Mia squeezing Adam’s hand and Adam saying, “Mia?”

IMPRESSIONS

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever read. My students would enjoy this book, however. Mia’s life seemed just a bit too perfect for me: she has the coolest parents, her boyfriend is a rock star, she’s a musical prodigy on the cello, she and her boyfriend are so in love, blah blah blah. The writing was good, and I appreciated all of the musical terms that were included in different aspects of the book — the car doesn’t just crash, there’s “a symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees.”

The book raised some very interesting questions, most importantly, “what do you live for?” I can’t imagine losing my entire immediate family at once. However, I was glad that Mia decided to stay, because she and I were going to have some strong words if I read the entire book and she decided to die. Strong words.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Forman creates a cast of captivating characters and pulls readers into a compelling story that will cause them to laugh, cry, and question the boundaries of family and love. While out on a drive with her family, 17-year-old Mia is suddenly separated from her body and forced to watch the aftermath of the accident that kills her parents and gravely injures her and her younger brother. Far from supernatural, this shift in perspective will be readily accepted by readers as Mia reminisces about significant events and people in her life while her body lies in a coma. Alternating between the past and the present, she reveals the details and complexities of her relationships with family and friends, including the unlikely romance with her punk-rock boyfriend, Adam. An accomplished musician herself, Mia is torn between pursuing her love for music at Julliard and a future with Adam in Oregon. However, she must first choose between fighting to survive and giving in to the resulting sadness and despair over all she has lost. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Mia’s struggles and will race to the satisfying yet realistic conclusion. Teens will identify with Mia’s honest discussion of her own insecurities and doubts. Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
School Library Journal

When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia’s passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia’s decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be good for a book talk with teenagers; it would also serve as a good display for warnings against drunk driving or safety while driving.

REFERENCES

Forman, G. (2009). If i stay. New York, NY: Dutton Books.

IF I STAY. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(7), 382.

Rashid, L. (2009). If i stay. School Library Journal, 55(5), 106. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/39142151/if-stay

3 comments » | SLIS5420

10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

March 30th, 2011 — 1:45pm

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 1939. Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature 1962. The title comes from a lyric from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which in turn refers to Revelation 14:19-20 that describes the justice doled out through the Apocalypse.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.


The novel takes place in the 1930s during the height of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. It followed the Joad family on their attempt to survive both as individuals and as a family. The Grapes of Wrath was initially not very well-received due to the social and political views that Steinbeck espoused through the novel, mainly by detailing the plight of poor people and the hardships of the migrant workers in California — people labeled it was lies and Communist leaning. However, it has become one of the most widely read books in classrooms and colleges across America.

The novel begins with Tom Joad, the Joad’s second oldest son, getting out of prison after serving four years for manslaughter. He makes his way to his family’s Oklahoma farm and on the way he meets Jim Casy, who is a former preacher who has given up his day job in order to be with the people — he believes that sacredness consists simply in endeavoring to be an equal among the people (Jim Casy is based on/inspired by Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts). Tom and Jim get to the farm to find it completely deserted. A neighbor tells them that the people on the land have all been “tractored” off and that most people, including the Joads, are heading to California to find work. Tom and Jim head to Tom’s Uncle John’s house to find his family finishing packing up all of their belongings into a single car that is affectionately referred to as a “jalopy.” They travel down Route 66 from Oklahoma to California.

The Joads head down Route 66.

Grandpa Joad, who complains the loudest that he doesn’t want to leave his land, dies before they can cross the Oklahoma border. Grandma Joad dies before they reach the California state line and Noah, the oldest brother, and Connie, the husband of the Joad’s pregnant daughter, Rose of Sharon, abandon the family.

Once the family reaches California, they are met with resistance — the work pool is oversaturated by people trying to find work and newcomers, whom are isnultingly referred to as “Okies”, are not appreciated. The family sets up in a Hooverwille (affectionately named for Herbert Hoover, who was the unfortunate president during the onset of the Great Depression and has become a scapegoat for blame for the economic downtown). The Hoovervilles are overcrowded and no one gets enough food; work is difficult to come by and no one can afford a sufficient amount of food for their families.

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him - he has known a fear beyond every other.

The corporate farm landowners fear a worker uprising, so they try to guarantee that the workers remain poor and dependent on them for survival. Tom and several men get into a heated argument with a deputy sheriff over whether workers should organize into a union. When the argument turns violent, Jim Casy knocks the sheriff unconscious and is arrested. Police officers arrive and announce their intention to burn the Hooverville to the ground.

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad in the 1940 movie.

The Joads eventually find work picking peaches at an orchard, until they find out that they’ve been hired as strikebreakers. Tom meets up again with Jim, who has been released from jail and is now hard at work organizing the workers and getting them to understand their power. Police deputies, hired by the landowners who don’t appreciate Jim’s new calling, raid the strike and in the action, Jim is killed; Tom retaliates by killing the police officer who killed Jim and fleeing.

Given Tom’s new fugitive status, the Joads move from the peach orchard to a cotton farm under the hopes that no one will identify Tom. When Ruthie, the youngest Joad daughter, is overheard telling another girl on the farm about her brother the murderer, Ma Joad sends Tom away to hide; Tom takes the opportunity to pick up where Jim left off in organizing the workers. Tom assures his mother that wherever he goes, he will work to help people:

Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there. See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy. Comes of thinkin’ about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes.

The end of the summer comes, which means the end of the growing season and the end of work. The family realizes that there will be no jobs for three months when the rainy season arrives and there are torrential downpours that turn into floods. Rose of Sharon goes into labor with her baby, and Ma Joad finds a dry barn for them to stay; unfortunately Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn. In the barn are another family, a boy and his father. The father is weak and dying from malnourishment because he’s been giving all of the food they find to his son — the irony is that he’s now too sick to eat solid food. The novel ends with Rose of Sharon taking the the dying man in her arms and breast feeding him.

The Grapes of Wrath, while not overtly Christian, has a lot of Christian themes and symbols. Jim Casy is a Christ-like figure all the way down to his “J.C.” initials. He is a man who lives his life for others and sacrifices himself for the cause of the unrepresented workers. The floods at the end of the novel, while damaging, bring forth a sense of renewal and hope with the beginning of spring. Rose of Sharon transforms from a rather self-centered girl to a Pieta figure — she is overcome by maternal instincts and is able to provide comfort and protection for others.

The story of the family is offset by chapters told from the point of view of inanimate objects and creatrues that symbolize different parts of the journey of the people during the Dust Bowl. There is a chapter that is about a turtle crossing the road and the dangers it encounters (an ant gets in its shell, a driver swerves to hit it and then swerves to misses it), several excerpts about the machinery that is taking over agriculture and making farmers obsolete and details about what happens to the land when the farmers leave, and there’s a chapter in the point of view of a used car salesman talking about how he cheats the customers that are obviously poor and desperate. It makes the novel more universal; rather than just following the Joads, the narration is ubiquitous, showcasing the suffering of what seems to be everyone in America.

One of the major themes of the novel is man’s inhumanity towards man and the dangers of forgetting the importance of altruism. Most of the hardships that the migrant workers, and the Joads specifically, face aren’t caused by the weather and the Dust Bowl but by people. Whether it’s from a social, economic, or racial hierarchy, the people in the novel keep themselves up by shoving others down. That’s what makes people consider this one of Steinbeck’s more socially conscious stories, the fact that he focuses so much on the plight of the migrant worker and the injustices suffered to them.

I first read The Grapes of Wrath in my AP English class my junior year of high school. And to be honest, all I remembered was Rose of Sharon breast feeding the dying man and that at one point someone pees in the dirt and makes a poultice for a cut out of the urine soaked mud. I also remember my teacher yelling at us about the machines being personified as monsters and being alive. It’s nice that the integrity of literature lives on in teenagers.

Steinbeck is one of the great American authors, and with good reason. The Grapes of Wrath manages to be a social commentary without seeming too preachy, in my opinion — however, it was banned and people held public burnings of the book because of what were seen as communist and socialist views. It’s nice to know that some things never change.

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55. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

August 19th, 2010 — 10:04pm

This is my first week back to work after my two and a half month long summer vacation. I spent a majority of those months in the car, visiting friends and having local adventures, which is probably why I gravitated to this book for my next voyage into the book list.

On the Road is a pivotal book from the Beat Generation. There is an apocryphal story of Jack Kerouac’s coffee-and-amphetamine fueled conception of the book, in which he taped together several typewriter scrolls in order to write without the pesky interruption of having to stop to reload. The original scroll manuscript has gone on a tour of college libraries throughout the United States and Europe and was published as On the Road: The Original Scroll in 2007. The stream of consciousness style as employed by Kerouac was used to showcase his semi-autobiographical novel about the adventures that he and his friend, Neal Cassady, had on the road from 1947-1950.

The names of Kerouac’s characters have been analyzed by literary scholars since the book’s publication in 1957. Kerouac based the novel on actual events and subsequently had to change the names of his friends who appeared as characters.

Neal Cassady (left) and Jack Kerouac (right).

The novel begins with Sal Paradise (Kerouac) introducing the concept of Dean Moriarty (Cassady). Sal was obsessed with the idea of the human condition, which included his friends, the jazz scene, the United States outside of New York, and most importantly, women.

They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Dean arrives in New York and changes everything for Sal. When Dean first arrived, he met Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), and they bond together and feed Sal’s fascination with eclectic and unique personalities.

In July of 1947, Sal decides that it is time for him to venture to the West Coast, and he hits the road with fifty dollars in his pocket. He travels to Chicago, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles, meeting women and different eccentric personalities along the way. Dean spends some time in prison for stealing cars, which cements his transition into an epic hero in Sal’s eyes.

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”

As their sojourn around the country continues, Sal becomes more and more disillusioned with what he finds on the road. The people that he encounters are from the more poverty-stricken end of the spectrum, including elderly African-American men and Mexican prostitutes. The sense of Sal and Dean’s heroism begins to falter as their lives and experiences turns into a series of failures.

Sal’s final attempt at finding a solution from the road leads him to Mexico City with Dean; they embark on a marijuana-fueled adventure through bordellos with mambo music and prostitutes. But while in Mexico, Sal develops dysentery and becomes feverish and hallucinates. Dean leaves Sal while he’s ill, which gives Sal the realization that Dean is more pathetic than he let on, and that the attributes that Sal originally admired in him were actually symptoms of his insecurity and existential crises:

When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

Sal returns home and ends the novel sitting on a pier facing west, reflecting on his friendship and adventures.

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

I love this book. I first read it when I was fresh out of high school and had a lot of grand notions of what my life was going to be and I was convinced that my best friend and I would be Kerouac and Cassady but with less drugs. The stream-of-consciousness style helps to convey the frenetic energy and the passion with which the characters, both fictional and their live counterparts, lived their lives. Reading On the Road or poetry from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti makes me feel cooler than I actually am, which is what the Beat Generation authors were all about — experiencing their lives through means that allows them to become more than they are. The movement got its name from the religious theory of beatification as well as the slang term of being beaten down. The Beat Generation was beaten down, but they were looking up.

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