2018.52 – Word Nerd

It’s no secret I adore Susin Nielsen! I first read We Are All Made of Molecules a few years ago, after a friend sent me a link to preorder it. I mean, it has molecules in the title, so a science teacher must love it, right? Duh!

I read it as a read aloud to my 7th graders two school years ago (read more here), and they loved it! I did the same this year with a similar response. There are so many places to stop and chat in that book.

I’ve had Word Nerd on my stack for a few months, and I finally read it. There really wasn’t much time between the start and finish because it instantly hooked me, and I had a hard time putting it down.

Ambrose, a social awkward 12-year-old, is pulled out of school to be home schooled after his “friends” put a peanut in his sandwich, not believing he was actually allergic to peanuts. He befriends Cosmo, his landlords’ ex-con son, and together they join the Scrabble Club. The catch? Ambrose’s mom doesn’t know and definitely doesn’t approve of his friendship and joining the Scrabble Club.

I adore the way Susin Nielsen develops her characters. She’s great at giving them quirks, and making them instantly likeable! Plus, she doesn’t shy away from addressing family dynamics, honoring both the struggles of the parents and kids.

If you haven’t read any of her books, I highly recommend them! All of them! (Even the ones I haven’t read yet…)


2018.51 – All Rights Reserved

This book (for me, audiobook) was nuts. I love love love the concept!

In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent rather than pay to speak, and her defiant and unexpected silence threatens to unravel the very fabric of society.” – Book Description via Goodreads

Such an interesting idea. We already copyright quite a bit. So, what happens when that gets taken too far?

In Speth’s world, people can sue each other for the most minor infractions and offenses, all from their cuff–a device placed on their wrist to track body movement, record and charge for words, and make transactions. At age 15, all individuals must give a Last Day speech, which marks their transition into adulthood. After her friend dies by suicide, Speth is unable to make herself speak, sparking a resolve to stay silent until there is societal change.

She must learn to subtly communicate without sound or gesture, as she carefully navigates her world.

There are so many twists and turns, it was hard to put this book down (or rather, hit the pause button). Not only was it a fun dystopian YA novel, but also it makes me think quite a bit.

And, I’m so excited the sequel, Access Restricted, comes out on August 28th!!

2018.50 – The Porcupine of Truth

Book hangover, 100%. The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg was phenomenal.

I read Honestly Ben in April, which prompted me to see what else he wrote. This title intrigued me, I mean, what is a porcupine of truth?!

Turns out The Porcupine of Truth is a magical creature that represents truth, healing, and love.

Carson is spending the summer in Billings, Montana with his mom, taking care of his dying and estranged dad. There, he meets Aisha, who has just been kicked out of her house after her dad finds out she’s a lesbian. Together, they embark on a crazy road trip, trying to find Carson’s grandfather (his father’s father) who suddenly disappeared from his father’s life when his father was a child. Along the way, they meet interesting people, many of whom provide some excellent life advice.

This book is heartbreaking, thoughtful, goofy and hopeful–often within the same paragraph. And, it spoke to my heart through puns and dorky jokes! Seriously, I need to be friends with Carson.

I highly recommend this book! And, I know my students will love it too!

Bill Kongisberg’s next book, The Music of What Happens, comes out on January 29, 2019–it’s already on my list to read next year!

2018.39 – Educated

I must have gotten this book onto my library holds from a “most exciting books coming in 2018” list, because I can’t remember where I heard about Educated by Tara Westover. All I know is that it popped up to check out off my holds, and here I am.


I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book, except that wow, way to go Tara! She grew up in a Mormon survivalist family, with a dad who was suspicious of the government, didn’t believe in doctors, and didn’t trust public education. The first time Tara walked into a classroom was when she was 17, and a freshman at BYU. As she grows and earns her education, she slowly starts to see her family’s different beliefs, and must reconcile them with her new worldview.

She persevered and eventually earned her PhD!

One thing that really struck me about this book is that it’s not a history, it’s the present. Tara is only a couple years older than I am, and her childhood took place parallel to my very much opposite growing up experiences.

Here’s a video interview from CNN with Tara Westover. She talks about her book and growing up, and gives a little taste of her education journey.

2018.37 – Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg is definitely in my tops list for 2018!

I read Openly Straight back in 2014, and loved it. I’ve recommended it to friends multiple times. So, when I found out it has a companion novel, I jumped for joy!

This is one of the YA worlds I wish I could teleport into, too bad Natick is an all-boys boarding school. Ben is just so friendly and approachable, even though he has his own share of issues (don’t we all?). And Rafe, Albie, and Toby seem like so much fun to hang around. Plus, Hannah is a strong female figure, who shines a light on inappropriate boy behavior.

There were so many awesome references to other things I love, especially the work of Brené Brown. I appreciate that Konigsberg brings in Brown’s research on vulnerability, and integrates it into the book. For a reader who hasn’t read any Brené Brown, this can be truly life altering. I highly recommend starting with her book Daring Greatly and her TED Talk.

Books I love mentioning other books I love? Yes please! Cue the happy dance! At one point, Rafe was reading Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. I read it back in 2015, during my big David Levithan kick. (In case you’re wondering, there was a parallel John Green and Rainbow Rowell kick, that led to me reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which introduced me to David Levithan.)

By the end of the book, I kept looking up and realizing I wasn’t in their world. Total book hangover.

2018.36 – Americanah

I recently finished Americanah (ebook) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved it!

After reading so much Young Adult fiction this year, the thing that struck me most was the pace of the book. The plot went much slower, however it didn’t feel like it was dragging on and on. It was unpredictable, complex, but also enjoyable to read.

Culturally, I found myself a little lost, so I had to pause to research and learn more about Nigeria, Nigerian culture, and look up YouTube videos to hear how words are pronounced. I appreciated that it wasn’t so plot driven that I couldn’t allow myself a break to do some extra learning.

There are so many elements of this book I want to hold onto. One was the concept of race, which was amplified by the main character’s, Ifemelu, popular and anonymous blog “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” I loved that there were blog posts sprinkled throughout, and it made me think about how different people perceive each other, even within races. Additionally, it was interesting how Ifemelu mentions multiple times in the book about how race isn’t an issue in Nigeria. While I have zero background in this topic, it made me think in ways I never have before.

Also, reading this book made me think of one of my roommates when I was in grad school. She was from Nigeria, and didn’t seem very friendly. Now, I wonder if her being so quiet was less personality and more culture shock of being in the United States for the first time. In contrast, our other roommate, from India, was quick to chat with me and trade stories. But, she had a large group of friends, also from various parts of India, that she spent lots of time with.

I’m making a mental note that I need to reread this book in a few years. I think reading it a second time, and maybe finding a group of friends to discuss it with, would allow me to step back and better process beyond the plot and major themes.

I see there is an audiobook version for Americanah. I’m putting it on hold (though I might not listen to the whole thing), because I’m curious to hear how it is produced. It is read by Adjoa Andoh, a British actress. I want to hear the words and phrases is Igbo, and hear if there is a change in how Ifemelu speaks in the beginning, middle, and end of the book.

PS. If you haven’t seen her TED Talk, “The danger of a single story,” I highly recommend it!

Have you read any of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books? If so, which one(s) do you recommend?

2018.35 – Smarter, Faster, Better

I recently reconnected with my friend Cristy from grad school, and she invited me to join her book club. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so achievement unlocked!

While they’ve been meeting monthly for the last 2.5 years, I joined for the first time in April 2018. The book this month was Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. I confess, The Power of Habit, also by Duhigg, has been on my shelf for a couple years, and I haven’t read it yet.

This is the type of nonfiction I enjoy: practical and filled with anecdotes to support points. It was a lot less “how to” and more about providing real examples. Even though it sometimes makes me roll my eyes, I wish there had been a conclusion paragraph with a personal challenge at the end of each chapter. This would have given me a boost for where to start with each big concept.

The book goes through different aspects of productivity, such as goal setting and focus. Each chapter could stand alone, and there isn’t an overarching theme for the book (other than productivity). This didn’t bother me too much. I could have easily read it over the span of a few months without issue.

This was a good book, however I think I’ve read a few others on productivity and work/life that I’d recommend more (including Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin and Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi).