review: Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

I grew up in Southern Maryland. We Marylanders are specific with our location because Maryland is quite a diverse state in terms of weather, attractions, and personality type. For example, Southern Maryland is located where the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River converge and is known for crabs, the Pax River Naval Air Station, and a country lifestyle with chain restaurants and high-end living in Solomon’s Island. The Eastern Shore is nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and is known for colleges and parties at the beach; Northern Maryland has more art and history gems than you’d think; and Western Maryland gets feet of snow when Southern Maryland gets a drop of rain. For a small state, we are quite unique, and I truly love going home to visit my parents because I get to experience its natural beauty.

One thing that I never did get comfortable with while living there was the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. I lived only 17 miles from the reactor whose “two pressurized light water reactor units produce more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity, which power more than 1 million homes.” Sounds powerful, eh? That’s what I thought. I vividly remember being in 8th grade, laying on my parents bed, talking to my boyfriend Eddie. We were both watching the news, and they were showing night raids in (I believe) Kosovo. We both commented on our proximity to the nuclear power plant. I had similar conversations two years later after 9/11. The combination of being 60 miles from Washington, DC and having a nuclear reactor in our back yard did not make for very settling thoughts. But as far as I know, terrorists have left Calvert Cliffs alone, as have natural disasters. Whew!

But the residents of Rocky Flats, Colorado – and surrounding neighborhoods – were not.

Are not.

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Kristen Iversen’s memoir and expose Full Body Burden: growing up in the nuclear shadows of Rocky Flats follows the bleak brief history of Rocky Flats – a nuclear weapons facility that created plutonium triggers for bombs. Between 1953 through the 1992, 70,000 triggers were created, but not all of the plutonium was out into the triggers. Instead, thousands of pounds of the highly dangerous element were lost – Materials Unaccounted For is the term used by employees, management, and the Department of Energy – and found in the air ducts of the plant, and in the soil, water, and bodies of animals and HUMAN BEINGS located around Rocky Flats.

Allow me to reiterate: thousands of pounds of a radioactive element – one of the key elements found in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki – was wafting through the air around Boulder and Denver, Colorado. Animals burrowed it into the ground and ingested it. Humans breathed it in, and ate the animals that ingested it. They also drank the water it settled into.

And the Department of Justice, Department of Energy, Dow Chemical and Rockwell International lied about it. They withheld information, lied, sealed scientific findings, and otherwise refused to tell the public the truth about the plutonium in and around Rocky Flats. Cancer diagnoses and deaths were recorded in absurdly high rates, and scientists and doctors all around the world agree that plutonium was (and is) the cause.

This book terrified me. Not just the plutonium itself, but because of the lies that were created by the people we are supposed to trust to make the best decisions for us. The number of government agents and judges that lied, omitted facts, or sealed truths in top secret envelopes are all to blame for the deaths that occurred after the first whistleblowers told their stories. The Department of Energy, Dow Chemical, and Rockwell International are to blame for the shady and hurried practices that led to the insufficient handling of the deadly element. So many people are to blame, yet so many people will never ever seen reparations for their suffering.

Read this book. It skips a lot between the years, and is sometimes confusing with all of the names and dates, but it will make you more aware of what nuclear energy is really capable of – and the sacrifice we are making when we support it.

Recommended for:
Those interested in history and science will “enjoy” this novel. (You can’t/shouldn’t enjoy a novel that calls the government out for allowing Big Business to poison their citizens…) Anyone who needs to be energized (no pun intended). This book will anger you, hopefully into action.

Read-alikes:
Plutopia: nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great Soviet and American plutonium disasters by Kate Brown – a professor at University of Maryland Baltimore Campus – “provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union”.   

 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot because it also combine history and science in a remarkable way.

review: That Part was True by Deborah McKinlay

that partThat Part was True: a novel by Deborah McKinlay is a novel of two middle-aged pen pals whose letters cross the Atlantic Ocean at the most opportune time. Jackson Cooper is a famous author who Eve writes to, thanking him for penning such thrilling novels. He writes back, beginning a non-stop conversation that mostly discusses food and feelings. Even though neither is completely honest with the other, the themes they write of are authentic. Some letters are brief, others no more than a postcard, but the results are life-changing.

Eve’s 20-something daughter is engaged, and has asked her estranged father to play a role in her life. The result is typical for a divorcee – she feels second-best, cast aside, unwanted. Jackson has writer’s block and cannot complete his next novel or his most recent relationship. Another disappointed woman, another failed marriage. But their ability to communicate with ease has both wondering if the other is who they are meant to be with.

This is a quick read, and a good one. The character’s self-actualization is important to read, because men and women – yes, even older ones – can grow. They can become better versions of themselves. They can let go of past hardships and move towards happiness. This novel proves that.

Read-alikes:
I don’t tend to read much adult fiction like this, so I’ll go with White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby, because of the food aspect. Seriously…both books will make you run for the kitchen to experiment with a new recipe, or tackle something you’ve always wanted to cook.

Recommended for:
Women who feel they are in a rut – personally, romantically, or with their families. This story is of a very weak woman slowing shedding the invisible heavy cloack that some middle-aged women seem to be carrying around their shoulders.

review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the top selling books of all time, and for good reason.* It is poetic in language, sincere in theme, and impeccable in delivery. It is one of the best that I have ever read, if not the best. Just as I read Gone with the Wind about four times throughout high school (I was entranced with Scarlett O’Hara’s gumption and later, her strength), TKAM fascinated me for its poignant portrayal of one of my country’s darkest eras.

The Jim Crow Era lasted from after the Civil War/Reconstruction (1877) clear through to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. That’s right, folks…nearly 100 years was spent pushing black Americans into corners, making them use back doors and separate water fountains, and in general not treating them like human beings. In TKAM Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white woman, and despite overwhelming evidence against that accusation, he is found guilty and sent to prison. He attempts to flee the prison and is shot dead by a guard. A towns person later says of Tom’s attempt,

You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ’em.

That kind of blanket statement that criticized the entire race was commonplace during that era, even among the most educated people. In fact, many Christians were known for preaching about the uncleanliness of blacks, a matter that simply was not grounded in any Biblical fact whatsoever. Dill, best friend of Scout (the precocious narrator) recognizes the unfair treatment during the trail of Tom. Crying, he said to Scout and a white landowner and black sympathizer,

The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered…It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ’em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.

The book was set in the 1930s, but published in 1961 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It (pleasantly) surprises me that a white woman from Alabama would pen a book that didn’t just turn the heads of Civil Rights leaders, the Pulitzer Prize committee, educators, and the entire country – it gave them all whiplash. It was picked up by international publishers and translated into more than 40 languages. People felt drawn to the sad truth coming from the South. Most importantly, from within the South.

While blacks may have equal rights today, make no mistake that no one is granted equal treatment. Women make less in salaries than their male counterparts. Migrant (largely Hispanic) farm workers are underpaid and mistreated. Gays are not permitted to marry in most states. We are not equal. We continue to mistreat and to be mistreated. We are better than we were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but we are still so behind on the matter of equality. Read To Kill a Mockingbird to realize how far we have come. Read it again to realize how far we haven’t.

*Interesting facts: Harper Lee earns over $9,000 a day in royalties. TKAM continues to sell 750,000 to 1 million copies each year.

2014 Youth Media Award Winners

Only once in my 7.5 year library career have I correctly guessed an award-winning title. (I just knew Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe would be a Printz honor.) Once. So it came as no surprise that, once again, I only got one correct guess.

The 2014 Printz Award winner Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick is a book I have never even seen, nonetheless heard about. Am I a poor Teen Services librarian, or is the publisher to blame?  The Printz Honor books include Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (which I just died over) and three other titles I have never. ever. heard. of. (Again, should I be embarrassed? Because I am…)
Of the 10 Alex Award Winners, I have read one and heard of another two. Three. Three out of ten. What? 
Embarrassing.
But, oh wait…I got two correct guesses! When I first saw Brian Floca’s Locomotive I just had to buy it for my nephews (specifically the five-year old Ronan who just adores trains, and for his third birthday I bought him a conductors cap, apron, and whistle). Locomotive is the Caldecott winner – for excellence in illustrations. See why:
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The entire list of winners can be found at the ALA website. Browse, peruse, check out from your library, or purchase. They are all deserving winners, and I can say that despite not reading more than a handful. Why? Because the authors, illustrators, narrators, editors, and publishers put love and care into each of them. Writing is an art that, whether or not we someday go 100% paperless, will never ever die. Writing can send us places we have never been, writing can encourage and inspire us.

 

review: Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis

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Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark is a moving memoir about a twenty-something’s experience working with children in rural Uganda. Katie, a middle-class white girl from Nashville, Tennessee was in high school when she first felt called to serve God in a unique way. When information about serving an orphanage in Uganda came across her computer, she couldn’t stop thinking of going there. Her parents relented and let her go over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. From her first day at the orphanage, she was enamored with the spirit of the children, the need of the community, and of her heart’s desire to stay.

I quit college; I quiet cute designer clothes and my yellow convertible; I quit my boyfriend. I no longer have all the things the world says are important….I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.

Katie credits her faith in God as the driving force behind her intense desire to stay in Uganda past those two weeks. Upon graduating from high school, she forewent the college life she had anticipated, and instead returned to Uganda to serve for one year at the orphanage. She picked chiggers out of children’s skin, nursed babies back to health, bathed and prepared food for the wards, but most importantly, she fell in love with them.

Katie is still there, seven years later. She has adopted 14 girls, all of whom live with her in a large rented home that sometimes has power and running water, but always has happiness, laughter, and love. Throughout the book she describes challenges she saw families face, such as sickness, hunger, and no money to send their children to school. After their basic needs were met, Katie saw to it that hundreds of children could attend school. She started a charity called Amazima Ministries that raises money to support and send Ugandan children to school.

I knew I could not change the village or the country of Uganda, but educated children could.

Katie is passionate and free with her love, but she is also pragmatic. She works hard to raise funds necessary for the education of the hundreds of children in her village. But sometimes things go wrong, and she has to endure the pain of being helpless. Helpless that is, except for the power of prayer.

I still have to sit with the Father in my sadness and brokenness over all the hurt in this world. Sometimes I still have to cry to Him and ask Him why innocent children must suffer and beg Him to move people to action.

Her faith in God and her ability to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is remarkable. She sees her behavior something she must do, instead of a selfless sacrifice that so many Westerners would never consider making.

People who want to make a difference get frustrated along the way. But if they have a particularly stressful day, they don’t qut. They keep going….They don’t do anything to call attention to themselves, they simply pay attention to the everyday needs of others, even if it’s only one person. They bring change in ways most people will never read about or applaud. And because of the way these world-changers are wired, they wouldn’t think of living their lives any other way.

Katie will probably never return to the United States. She will raise her daughters in Uganda, and when they are grown women doing remarkable things, she will adopt more orphaned girls and teach them to love and praise God, and to study hard, and to dream. I wonder if Katie realizes that she has become a version of her idol, Mother Teresa.

I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person.

Recommended for:
Young men or women who may be struggling with the decisions they must make regarding their future. Some teens just don’t know what they should be aspiring towards, or what God has planned for them. This memoir will remind them that their lives are not their own, but the Lord’s, and that He will guide them if only they open their hearts to Him and His plan.

Read-alikes:
Life Without Limitations: inspiration for a ridiculously good lifby Nick Vujicic, the true-story of a man born with arms or legs, and how he turned that disability into a life that inspires thousands.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. John 9:3. Disease is certainly not a sin. And poverty is not a sin; it is a condition, a circumstance that allows God’s work to be displayed.

Adoption is wonderful and beautiful and the greatest blessing I have ever experienced. Adoption is also difficult and painful. Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption. It is the Gospel in my living room….Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy in this broken world.

guest review: Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

This guest review comes from my colleague in the Teen Center, Devi. She is a voracious reader of all things non-realistic. When we first heard of this book, we mocked it for a solid 5 minutes. Devi decided to give it the benefit of doubt, and took it home with her that night. Here is what she thought of it:

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Let me start by saying that I have never had a book surprise me like this one did. When I heard about the plot, my first thought was how bad it sounded. Aliens impregnating teens… really? Well, I’m eating my words now.

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal follows Elvie on board a spaceship that houses a school for pregnant teens. Elvie is just sixteen years old, and despite being surrounded by other pregnant teens she still has to deal with high school drama, even in space!  Let’s add an alien attack to that drama and you’ve got quite the story with hormonal girls screaming and crying and trying to stay alive. As it turns out, these so called alien attackers are actually the girls’ rescuers. But wait, one of them is the father of Elvie’s child! That’s right – we’re talking alien babies.  So now, not only does Elvie have to deal with having an alien baby, but she is also the smartest person on the ship and the only one who can really help the other girls and aliens escape. Escape from what, you ask? Oh, just the evil aliens that are trying to take over the ship and kill everyone.

As crazy as all of that might sound, this book is a terrific read. You want action? You’ve got it. Romance? Adventure? Sci-fi? Humor? You’ve got it! I could not put this book down until I was done. It is a quick read, but you will enjoy Elvie’s internal monologue as she switches from the present to her past. You meet her best friend Ducky, her quirky father, and Cole, her baby’s daddy who is also her arch-nemesis’ boyfriend. Elvie is not just your typical female protagonist; she is an intelligent girl who uses her resources and her wit to overcome her obstacles. Plus, her sarcastic outlook on everything really brings the humor to the story. She makes the book fun! You will be chuckling your way through the book, right up to an ending that will shock you into immediately wanting the sequel! In short, this book is so ridiculous, light-hearted, and funny, that you have to read it.

review: The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley


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The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley is the story of astrophysicist Elle and neurosurgeon Matt, high school sweethearts whose love is told in this novel through flashbacks and diary entries. Their lifelong relationship and deep-rooted love for one another is evident, despite 15 lost years due to a careless mistake. They’ve spent the past 4 years making up for the lost time, though, living a beautiful life. Unfortunately, Elle’s continued miscarriages have scared Matt from wanting to try again, although being a mother is Elle’s deepest desire.

When Elle falls off a ladder and is declared brain dead, Matt believes his life is over. But a shocking discovery is made: Elle is 6 weeks pregnant. Matt is determined to keep the baby, despite Elle’s advanced directive that states that she should not be kept alive if she cannot breathe on her own. Matt fights with himself and Elle’s family to keep her alive until the baby can be born.

This story may not seem plausible to you, but it is currently being scrutinized in Fort Worth, Texas. Marlise Munoz was found unconscious by her husband, and the hospital could not revive her. She was found to be 16 weeks pregnant, and the state of Texas has mandated that the hospital keep her alive – despite her husband and her parent’s wishes. Texas law states that a hospital “cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant woman”, even if her next of kin wish otherwise.

When I first heard of the Munoz family’s situation, I was saddened that the state would step in and take away the family’s rights. Then I picked up The Promise of Stardust and my emotions were jostled even more. If you want a realistic glimpse into what that family is going through in Texas, read this. If you want to understand grief and love, read this. If you are one of those people who cannot look away from a car crash or yet another episode of Maury Povich, read this. The drama and intensity is honest and palpable.

Read-alikes: 
Anything at all by Jodi Picoult. Drama, plot twists (though not so severe you need a neck brace for the whiplash), and love.

Recommended for: 
I want my mom to read this. She looooooves People Magazine and the real-life stories of common people as well as celebrities. I think this book would give her a pro-longed (read: longer than a 1-page article) glimpse into the reality behind these difficult made-for-Fox-News situations.

As for me, to love you alone, to make you happy, to do nothing which would contradict your wishes, this is my destiny and the meaning of my life. –Napoleon Bonaparte