Adventures in Reading

Revisted Reviews: Higher Power of Lucky

A few weeks ago my mother sent me the link to a New York Times’ article: With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar. Why are some people so shocked? Why has this book already been pulled from the shelf? Because the word “scrotum” appears on the first page.

Thus in my unfailing curiosity I checked this book out from work to actually see what all the hubbub was about. The word “scrotum” does indeed appear on the first page as our young, heroine Lucky eavesdrops on a conversation and overhears a story about Short Sammy’s dog Roy being bit on the scrotum by a rattlesnake.

Following the use of the “scrotum” in the book it reappears a few pages later as: “Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important, and Lucky was glad she was a girl and would never have such an aspect as a scrotum to her own body. Deep inside she thought she would be interested in seeing an actual scrotum. But at the same time—and this is where Lucky’s brain was very complicated—she definitely did not want to see one.”

Now if we move beyond this atrocious and horrible idea of using anatomically correct terms in children’s books, The Higher Power of Lucky is the story of a young girl living in the Mojave Desert. The population is 43 and the history we’re given is that Lucky’s parents are divorced and two years ago Lucky’s mother dies accidentally from stepping on a fallen but live electrical line after a storm. Rather than her father taking care of her, Brigitte—Lucky’s father’s first wife—comes to California from France to take care of her.

An important concept in the book is the idea of finding your “higher power,” which Lucky picks up (as well as the “scrotum” story) from eavesdropping on the local 12 Step-esque programs. These programs occur at Hard Pan’s local Found Object Wind Chime Museum where Lucky holds the wonderful job of sweeping the front porch. The programs include Gamblers, Alcoholics, Smokers and Over Eaters groups and those members who have beaten their addictions share stories of how they hit “rock bottom” and managed to find their “higher power.”

The word choice of “scrotum” is entirely appropriate as Short Sammy explains “even though it bit him in the worst place it can hurt for a male” his dog Roy still managed to rescue Short Sammy (who was too drunk to even notice the snake) by killing the snake. Waking into sobriety Sammy makes a deal with himself that if Roy is okay that he’ll stop drinking, go clean, and join AA. Realizing that he was too drunk to even care for himself and could have been killed in the situation Short Sammy realizes that he’s “hit rock bottom” and now attends AA-meetings to share how he found his “higher power.”

The book becomes a story of the complications and trials and tribulations in a child’s life that may not seem quite so serious to adults to downright serious concerns for some children in non-traditional family units. The book becomes a tale of Lucky hitting “rock bottom” and ultimately finding her “higher power” by the end of the book. Also at the end of the book the reader will find:

After a moment Lucky said, “Brigitte, what is a scrotum?”

“It is a little sack of the man or the animal which has in it the sperm to make a baby,” said Brigite in her deep, quiet voice. “Why do you ask about that?”

“It was just something I heard someone say,” said Lucky.”

Overall I don’t think there is anything objectionable in this book but only librarians (for the most part it seems) worried about parent’s squeamish reaction. And can you blame them? In the United States where sex ed largely seems to have gone the way of the dodo, as we’re replaced more and more with abstinence only courses, how often does the public school have to explain or even say the word “scrotum”? The Higher Power of Lucky is an excellent choice for the Newbery medal and if you find yourself with a few free hours on a rainy Sunday I do suggest you visit your local library or bookstore to take a look.

There are many more thoughts on this over at the Newbery Project and some thoughts from Book Nut.


Revisted Reviews: Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler

I finished Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler last evening and admittedly was not quite a fan of it. Parts of it I found to be horribly dense and while it’s not A Very Easy Introduction much of the book didn’t really seem to fit under the topic. Granted, some of you who are experts in literary theory may disagree. However, I did enjoy a good portion of the book that went into the history of the novel, what exactly literary theory is, looked into the canon and how “reading” styles have changed over time, and so forth. Perhaps most splendidly it offers a short and concise list of all the big literary theories (i.e. feminism, Marxist, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, etc).

Looking back, this is definitely a book that went right over my head at the time and always has been one that I mean to return to. While I love this series of books, I admit that they are not really intended for a beginner. Some of the books, like Literary Theory, demand much more from the reader than other basic introductions.

Revisted Reviews: Zombie Lover by Piers Anthony
July 28, 2008, 12:45 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I craved for a fantasy read and stumbled onto Piers Anthony (my first time reading him) and who could turn down a book titled Zombie Lover? Our 15-year-old, black wave hero Breanna takes the reader on a tour of Xanth (and other worlds) as she runs from a zombie king in a Snow White-kissed-awake tale gone wrong. Along the way she picks up many delightful characters and intrigue continues. I was a bit turned off as Anthony insists on explaining all of his puns to the reader and the end of the book was rather predictable (i.e. I mostly skimmed the last 40-pages or so). I was annoyed though at the never-ending smorgasbord of […] and bottoms and poorly done sexual quips. In addition, half of my love for fantasy tends to be the cover art and I was hugely disappointed that Breanna was depicted as a slightly tan white girl rather than the black girl she’s described as in the story. Additionally, Anthony’s commentary on race seemed very superficial and uninformed. Overall it was a fun “bad” read but one I definitely had political problems with.

What in the world was I doing with a book entitled Zombie Lover? Looking back at this, I have know idea what the “[…]” refers to. Was I annoyed at Anthony’s ellipsis usage? More likely I meant to look my annoyance up in the book before returning it to the library but promptly forgot. (Something that happens with a fairly high frequency.) After posting this review at a LiveJournal, I was informed by an Anthony fan that the author’s more recent books were not nearly as delightful as his earlier works. This gives me hope. I do find it interesting though how a reader’s personal politics affects interpretation of a book.

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