Sunday, January 30, 2011

Three Day Road

Part of the joys of being a teacher on a Cree reservation is trying to teach materials that are culturally relevant for the students, and will actually engage them when they’re reading. Usually Aboriginal stories are good enough for my students, but they also enjoy anything that has to do with trapping, survival, and humor. I try to stay away from stories that deal with domestic violence, because, quite frankly, for most of these kids, they’ve already lived it and don’t want to relive it again. Anyway, Three Day Road , by Joseph Boyden, came to me as a recommendation from another teacher. He’d had tried it with his grade twelve students, and told me that they absolutely loved it. Such a glowing review, made me decide to check it out.

Ah Three Day Road, despite the glowing reviews, I was honestly hesitant to read you because I believed you looked like a boring book. I thought you would be filled with endless prattle about the land and cheesy Cree dialogue. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to relate to anything being told, and that you would be a complete and utter waste of my time. Lucky for both you and me, my predictions were wrong: you are truly an amazingly powerful and intense novel.

The story is told in a non-linear format, circular in nature, and is built off of the structure of traditional Aboriginal stories. Reading it is like taking a walk in the woods  - you start somewhere, and then you meander, and, in the very end, you return to where you started; however,  you’ve changed a little and the environment around you has changed a little too. You’ve become a slightly different person in those moments of awareness.

This novel surrounds three characters: Niska (a Cree medicine woman), Xavier Bird (Niska’s nephew, and a returning war hero), and Elijah Whiskeyjack (the trickster of the tale and Xavier’s best friend). In the first storyline, Niska is recalling her life while nursing the war-wounded Xavier. She speaks of assimilation, and the struggle of her people and herself to keep  culture and independence alive. Her story is tinged with sadness, and the awareness that the old way of life is dying (which relevant on reservations even today). In the second storyline, the wounded Xavier is remembering his experiences during World War One, and how the war affected both he and Elijah differently. This storyline, in my opinion, was the most memorable and also most horrific, as it dealt with a descent into madness and brought the witiko myth to life. Both Xavier and Elijah are portrayed as flawed individuals during World War One, whose surroundings cause them to do things that they would have never thought possible in the bush before. Throughout the novel, Boyden does an excellent job at maintaining the unique individual voices of each character, and thus is able to create characters that seem like living breathing people.

Boyden has done his research here. First, The horrors of World War One are portrayed accurately, and his descriptions of the lice, mud, disease, and madness are unforgettable. Reading it, I felt like I was actually experiencing a first-person account of trench warfare.  The imagery used burned itself into my brain, and there are some scenes I doubt I will ever forget even if I never read this book again. Second, not only has Boyden done an accurate portrayal of World War One, but he has also done a magnificent job of incorporating historical figures from the Cree people into this novel. For example, Niska’s father is modeled after Jack Fiddler, a famous shaman and witiko killer that died in police custody. As another example, Xavier and Elijah were inspired by World War I heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak, and it is easy to see these men portrayed in the novel’s main characters. Third, the Cree language is used as part of the story, and the title of each chapter named in Cree, helps to unlock a deeper meaning to the stories being told. Fourth, the information about residential schools, while disturbing, is also truthful, and helps to remind the reader of the atrocities that Aboriginal peoples suffered at the hands of both churches and the federal government. In my opinion, it is hard to find novels better-researched than this one.

So yes, I did love this book, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it and teaching it to my students. I feel that this book has a lot to offer to Canadians, whether they be Aboriginal or not. I feel that I will always be returning to this book, like a walk in the woods, and each time I read it again, my perception will shift, and I’ll become a little more aware of everything.


  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Canada; Seventh Impression edition (May 6 2008)
  • Language: English

Friday, January 28, 2011


The Telegraph has a great article on the influence of ebooks on the publishing world,  check it out! Also, let me know what you think: do you think the published word is dying?

I know that I will never be able to get into the ebook phenomenon. For me, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about holding and reading an actual book. Even if books go the way of the record, I'll be the nerd still holding her books and listening to her records.

The Walking Dead Six

Last night my order from arrived. Inside the package was a copy of Three Day Road and The Walking Dead Six. Three Day Road I’m going to have to read for my students’ grade twelve novel study, and so I’m putting aside for now. Basically, I want to save up my brain power before I undertake the arduous task of coming up with questions for them, analyzing theme, looking for symbolism, et cetera. Instead, I reached for my copy of The Walking Dead: Book Six, and promptly finished it this morning.

It’s a quick read, as most graphic novels/comics are, and can be finished easily in one-to-two sittings.

The aesthetics of this book are beautiful. It’s a hard cover masterpiece, and is completed by glossy pages. There are even colour graphics thrown in and creator notes at the back. The quality of this design adds to the pleasure of reading it. The publishers didn’t skimp when making the book, and that is the reason for the book’s somewhat hefty price-tag of $30.00 plus dollars. It’s not cheap in either way.

I enjoyed the book, but perhaps not as much as the previous books (ok, well I have the fifth book and also the compendium). I found that these comics focused more upon human relationships, and that age-old struggle between civilization and savagery, rather than lots of good ol’fashioned zombie killing. Because of the exploration of the human aspect, I found the plotline to be slow-moving and a little bit dull. There was no suspense in Alexandria for me, there was only boring conversation between tired and contrived characters. Robert Kirkman, quite simply, there wasn’t enough of Michonne wielding her katana!

The only “exploration of human relationships” that I found truly compelling involved Dale and Andrea. I suppose I was interested in this because I felt like I knew Dale and Andrea from the previous books. Andrea was the smart but a little screwed up woman who was in love with a kind and caring older man. The age discrepancy in their relationship and their feelings toward it made sense in the fucked up post-apocalyptic world. And so, I was saddened by Dale’s misfortune, and my heart hurt for Andrea and her grief. Of all the relationship deaths in this story, this one was the most tragic and heartfelt.

After reading The Walking Dead: Book Six, I’m still looking forward to the next compilation in the eventual seventh book, and I’m also in anticipation of the second season AMC’s The Walking Dead.


[THE WALKING DEAD, BOOK SIX]The Walking Dead, Book Six 
By Kirkman, Robert(Author)Hardcover On 26 Oct 2010)
Image Comics (2010), Hardcover

Monday, January 24, 2011


I've started a literature study on Halfbreed with my students. I love this book (and I'll post a review of it too, I promise), but it's a little strange teaching Aboriginal students about the products of white assimilation and structural violence in Canada. There's a little bit of my own racial guilt going on, I suppose.

I hope my students take a lot away from reading this book. It will tell them a lot about the history of the Metis, and the history of their own province. They'll learn about injustice and tragedies, and I suspect they'll recognize many of Campbell's problems in their own lives. I also want them to become empowered to speak out against assimilation and colonization, and to question their own role within Canadian society. I want them to dig deeper, and to emerge from this literature study with a deep awareness.

Friday, January 21, 2011

another teen novel

Yes, I finished reading another teen novel. I'll post my review later on, but for now, a little information about the author.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The sewage line backed up, and flooded our basement. Yes, we had about 3 inches of  fetid water all over the basement floor, and it destroyed a lot. Right now, my common-law and I are currently in the process of cleaning it up. Since we’re on the break, and I need something to take my mind of the crappy situation (ha ha), I’m going to finally review New Moon.

Well, as you already know New Moon is a continuation of the Twilight saga. The plot continues to revolve around everyone’s favourite manchild vampire, Edward Cullen, and the simpering object of his thirsty affection, Bella Swan. In this book, Edward flees after a certain incident, and leaves a heartbroken Bella to pick up the pieces. Any teenager with a good sense of angst and melodrama will adore such a book.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the melodramatic nature of the plot. Critics disliked the fact that Bella’s life seemed to end when Edward left; however, as someone who suffered through high school breakups and sees them all the time with her students, I can say that life does seem to end after a traumatic romantic separation. You have days where everything seems meaningless, and you want to pine away. I thought this was a realistic feature of the novel. Personally, I felt the plotlines involving Italy, the Volturi, and the werewolves were the less interesting aspects of this novel.

Our characters continue to act very much in the same way. Bella continues her self-absorbed obsession with the Cullen family, and continues to tempt males with her amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing beauty (honestly, I don't know what they see in her - she's boring!). Edward continues to be the perfect period piece man and loves the whining of the damsel. Jacob, while transformed into a gang werewolf, is still naive and powerless against Bella's wiles. Finally, dear ol' Dad remains doting and completely clueless. Nothing new here. Seriously.

With this novel, Meyers has been able to write another fast-paced best-seller. This book doesn’t ask any major existential questions or journey beyond simple plotlines and basic themes; yet, there is something endearing about New Moon. I would recommend it.

Ok, back to cleaning the basement.



New Moon (The Twilight Saga)
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009), Edition: 1 Reprint,
Mass Market Paperback, 576 pages

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fixing Delilah Hannaford

Whenever I read a teen novel, I ask myself, “Will my kids enjoy this book? Is there enough drama, tension, romance, and angst in here that they will be able to relate to? Is this a quality book for teens?”  And, when reading Fixing Delilah Hannaford, I asked myself these same questions. Thankfully, all the questions were answered in the affirmative – this novel is the quintessential great read for adolescents.

Our protagonist, Delilah Hannaford, is troubled. She’s been caught shoplifting, cutting class, and going around with a “non-boyfriend”. The only route to her redemption lies in taking a cathartic family vacation to Maine, and dealing with not only her grandmother’s death but also unanswered family skeletons. Of course, no summer is complete without a cute boy, so Delilah meets one, and romance ensues. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that Delilah becomes more mature as the summer progresses.

The author, Sarah Ockler, has written a quality novel. This book is powerful, enticing, and moving. I would recommend it to any  young audience, or any adult who has an interest in teen literature.



Fixing Delilah
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Last Duchess

I just finished reading My Last Duchess. I found the book to be a bunch of easy-reading malarkey, which I suppose should have not surprised me given that said book was marketed as a "historical romance". The author, Daisy Goodwin, had borrowed much of her plot from A Portrait of a Lady, but, unlike James, Goodwin was unable to make the story truly compelling. I found the book to be weak and unremarkable.

The heroine of this novel, Cora Cash, is a self-absorbed American heiress, that seemingly escapes an overbearing mother in order to marry a ludicrous prig, the Duke of Wareham. As you might have guessed, I have little sympathy for Cash or the "conflicts" that she finds herself to be embroiled in. Cash's lack of personality and her boring marriage doesn't really leave me rooting for her when threats arise.

This book is the type of book you buy in an airport, read on the plane, and then never bother looking at again.



My Last Duchess
Headline Review (2010), Paperback, 448 pages

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poetry Break

Yesterday, I exposed my students to this and powerful beautiful poem by Sharon Olds:

Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941

That winter, the dead could not be buried. The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger, the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with something and taken on a child's sled to the cemetery in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil, some of them wrapped in dark cloth bound with rope liek the tree's ball of roots when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets, their pale, gauze, tapered shapes stiff as cocoons that will split down the center when the new life inside is prepared; but most lay like corpses, their coverings coming undone, naked calves hard as corded wood spilling from under a cloak, a hand reaching out with no sign of peace, wanting to come back even to the bread made of glue and sawdust, even to the icy winter, and the siege.

It made them think of the influenza epidemic of 1919, and how stories related to that tragedy      are handed down in families. Of how bodies weren't placed in coffins, but merely
placed in a shroud. Bodies taken away to an island for an anonymous remembrance.

After reading said poem, one my students asked, "Alexis, do you like death like a lot?" I had 
to think for a moment (because I had made them read The Black Cat, Do Not Go Gentle, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, and The Cask of Amontillado)  to think about my
 response. I realized that I had picked poems/short stories that relate to death because death 
poetry and short stories usually have a lot of figurative language in them.  This makes it easy for students to analyze for literary devices (oh metaphor!). Furthermore, death is a universal theme, of which everyone can relate. Reading about death, quite frankly, makes one think about their own personal experiences, and usually forces students to think critically about the poem or 
short story at hand.

And there, my dears, is my story.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

While my grade twelves were writing their final English exam, I sat down and read Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris. Some of these essays were amazingly funny. Indeed, during several parts, I found that  I was in quiet hysterics. I'm pretty sure my kids thought I was laughing at their own personal exam hell. Such are the immense powers of works such as "SantaLand Diaries" and "Six to Eight Black Men".

So yes, really really really funny book. Check it out if you like sarcastic essays that point out the absurd nature of today's society.

The only thing I thought was weak about this book was in the inclusion of Sedaris' short stories. Quite frankly, I feel that Sedaris tried a little to hard to make his short stories 'amusing' and 'hilarious' for his readers, and it didn't work. They actually made me yawn. Seriously. 

But I'd buy this book just for its essays.



Holidays on Ice
Back Bay Books (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 176 pages

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

When I was in university, I took a few classes on Third World Politics and attended a conference on African nations by the Mennonite Central committee. I also watched films like Hotel Rwanda, Shake Hands With the Devil, and Journey into Darkness. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what happened in Rwanda. I thought I could fathom the violence, and understand the victims.

And then I read A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali.

Gil Courtemanche’s novel is horrifying in its honesty, and a terrifyingly memorable read. It is a story of humanity, violence, brutality, betrayal, and love. Not only love between human beings, but also the love that one can have for one’s homeland.

The central plot revolves around Bernard Valcourt, a Quebecois journalist, and his  Hutu lover, Gentille. Their relationship develops as Rwanda sinks into violence. The more serious their relationship becomes, the greater the horror in Rwanda. Their relationship is doomed as soon as these two meet, but, as a reader, one can’t help but hoping everything will be alright for them.

This book is infused with sex. On that note, to me, it is much like Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers, as both books examine sex/passion in the face of adverse situations. In A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, I was struck how despite the horror of AIDS and death, the characters still want to make love, and still want to, for the most part, worship the human body. The characters live in the present, and don’t allow the fear of illness or death to interfere with procreation.  Some critics might denounce the sexual content as drawing attention away from genocide, but I feel that the sexual nature of this novel only enriches it.

Essentially, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a tragedy based off of a real-life tragedy.  I think the novel does an excellent job of humanizing the events, and at recreating the tension before the genocide occurred. If you have any interest in modern Africa, then read this novel. I promise,  you won’t regret having done so.



A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
Vintage (2004), Paperback, 272 pages

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Two: Twilight

I have a confession: I bit the bullet, and read Twilight.

Yes, I’ve now joined the hordes of other girls and women who have wasted their time reading about vampire romance. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve even read this book, given that I’ve made scorching comments about the “sexy vampire” genre in the past. Of course, now I realize that I’m simply unable to resist the temptation of Edward Cullen and his godlike appearance.

Ha ha.


We all know about the plot of this novel, right? If not, it’s pretty basic. Girl moves to small town. Girl is soooooooo beautiful and amazing that everyone falls in love with her, including a turn-of-the-century man/boy vampire.  Girl and vamp become friends, and eventually get together to exchange some chaste kisses. Boy vamp thirts for her blood (symbolic much?) but avoids the temptation of “biting” her. Girl gets introduced to vampire culture, and learns that there are bad AND good vampires. Girl gets into danger, but escapes. Girl and vampire live somewhat happily ever after, but remain celibate. As I said, basic plot, and certainly didn’t introduce anything new into the literary world, but Meyers is able to sell lots.

Meyers does an apt job at creating a romance sans  the great monster of premarital sex. The restrained nature of the relationship between Bella and Edward reminds me more of a Victorian gothic love story, such as Jane Eyre, than the modern love stories of today. The relationship of Bella and Edward is based off words, staring, and certainly lacks in carnal passion (except when they do a couple of kisses).  These two teenagers have to hold their desires in check, and it doesn’t really seem to bother them. As former teenager, I know that the restraint is a rather unusual in relationships, and thus their relationship seems more of an ideal than a reality.

As you can guess, I don’t feel that Meyers doesn’t write great “literature”, but I will admit that Meyers is perfectly able to churn out a best-seller. The language is basic and accessible to anyone. In other words, you don’t have to be an intellectual to read this. Meyers does a great job, at describing things; although, her descriptions grow a bit old when she repeats the same phrases over and over again (such as “angelic”, “marble”, “godlike”, et cetera). There is enough tension, sexual or otherwise, to keep the reader wanting to go on. Despite these plusses, Meyers is unable to write a truly compelling story, I believe, given that her plot and character development are weak.

Bella Swann, the protagonist, was dull.  At the start of the novel, we see a teenager with some rebellion and spark in her personality. She dislikes dancing, feels awkward, and views herself as being almost grotesque. She reminded me of myself as a teenager! Yet, magically in the town of Forks, Bella becomes a beautiful girl who the boys are unable to resist. I think her allure goes to her head, because by the time she and Edward get together, she’s an obsessive and infatuated shrew. In less than a hundred pages, she manages to turn into a girl who is weak-minded and boyfriend obsessed. Her life revolves around her boyfriend, so much so, in fact, that she’s willing to sacrifice her 17 year-old self in order to spend eternity with him. She is constantly thinking about him, and gazing at him admiring his beauty. Yawn. Needless to say, I feel sorry for her friends, and she bores me as a person.

In comparison, I found Edward Cullen to be the more compelling character. He whines a lot less than Bella, and seems to be more emotionally mature than our heroine. I suppose that this emotional maturity stems from the fact that he has been alive for more than one hundred years. Cullen is also an ideal man given that he is respectful, devoted, and dutiful to his love. I think these aspects of his personality are what sends hearts a-flutter.

It took me about four hours to tear through Twilight, and then, despite any reservations, I started reading New Moon. Apparently, I’m full-fledged member of the Stephenie Meyers’ fan club now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Twilight and New Moon

Well, I just finished reading Twilight and New Moon. Apparently I betrayed all I hold dear and true by reading said books. Anyway, they were catchy and ok. I'll do a more formal review later.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Adaptations

This is a neat link about books in film during 2010.

Watch in the next couple of weeks for my top 10 list of book adaptations

Book One of 2011

I don’t really know how to describe my experience reading Dead Man Walking.  

Draining? Sort of.

Stunning? Yes.

Informative? Certainly.

This book explains Sister Helen Prejean’s, a Catholic Nun, experiences with two different death row inmates in Louisiana. What begins as a simple pen pal exchange with one (Patrick Sonnier), turns into a life-altering experience for Prejean. Prejean, quite simply, learns not only about crime, but also the role that society has played in creating crime.  She sees these prisoners not as violent offenders but as the people that they are. She grows to understand that the death penalty is not the best way to retaliate against their crimes, and that often justice in the name of religion isn’t justice at all.

I suppose Dead Man Walking managed to shock and horrify me. I read poverty and violence statistics that I had never seen before, and I was ashamed that a country like the United States could be that unjust.  People need to know about this structural violence, and they need to take action. As Prejean proves, even small actions can create huge crescents of change.

While heavy on information, this book is a quick read. I suggest that anyone with interest in social activism, Christianity, or criminal justice take the time to check this out.



Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty In The United States
Vintage (1994), Edition: 1st Vintage Books ed, Paperback, 288 pages

Book Challenge

I'm going to be participating in the 50 Book Pledge and the 75 Book Challenge this year!

Wish me luck! :)