Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom


Tuesdays With Morrie  by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie stayed on best seller lists for months, touching readers deeply with the author Mitch’s accounts of this Tuesday visits with his favorite college professor, 15 years after he graduated. His professor, Morrie Schwarta, has been diagnosed with ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and knows he will die from it sooner or later. As Mitch visits Morrie every Tuesday, they talk about major life issues Mitch as listed. In between chapters recounting their discussions, Mitch fills in Morrie’s background from this childhood through his education and professional journey to becoming a respected professor and champion of social justice. Morrie’s insights, filled with wisdom from his life’s experience and honest perspective as he nears the end of his life, reflect universal truths common to many religions and cultures. Readers of all ages will be inspired by this book.


Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson


Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

men we reaped

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

In the short span of four years, the author of this memoir lost five young men who she considered family.  They died from different actual causes-drugs, suicide, accidents- but Ward couldn’t help believing there was some sort of connection between the five deaths.  Something inside her whispered that they were all young, black, from the South and raised in poverty.  She wrote this book to ask why these tragic deaths occurred, and to look at the possibility that who they were and where and how they lived was a part of the equation.  Ward grew up in rural Mississippi, in a small, rural town called DeLisle.  As she recounts her memories of these young men, readers will begin to draw their own conclusions about our society.  One of the most poignant parts of the book states:

“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system.  And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other.  We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us.  Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.  Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within.  And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.” (page 168)

When I first heard Ward interviewed about her book, I thought that her primary thesis was weak and wouldn’t be supported by the facts.  After reading the stories of these five young men, however, I can see how the impact of race, poverty and living in the rural South impacted their lives to a degree I had never originally anticipated.  Seeing life through Ward’s eyes, as a young person who did leave the South for college but was always connected to it emotionally, will make readers rethink their own beliefs and assumptions our our nation with its easy “freedom for all” facade.  I think this book will become a classic, much in the way Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Boy by Richard Wright have become.  I will be recommending this title to all my high school students and think it will be a hit here at Berkeley High School.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This beautiful and lyrical memoir is written in verse by one of our finest Young Adult writers.  In it, Woodson vividly recollects her upbringing both in New York’s Brooklyn and the deep south.  Both of these homes informed her childhood, where she was raised by a loving family and experienced a huge sense of community in South Carolina.  Born in 1963, the author lived through the Civil Rights movement as a child and young adult, and her personal insights into the politics of the time are compelling.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it both YA and adult readers looking for a memoir of a self-aware young woman who grew up as an African-American in the 60’s, both in rural and urban environments.  This would be the perfect title for any of our Berkeley High students in the Short Story course and are looking for a great memoir.  Woodson has written many, many books for young adults.  I’ve loved all the ones I’ve read, finding them realistic and poignant.  That they’re usually less than 200 pages makes them a quick read, which is sometimes just what I’m looking for.  She has also written some thoughtful picture books, which are illustrated with beautiful water color images.  Ask either of the librarians for advice if you’re just starting out reading Jacqueline Woodson.

miracles boys          beneath          i hadn't meant          each kindness


Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

girl interrupted

Girl, Interrupted  by  Susanna Kaysen


The author’s memoir of her teen years in the 1960s focuses on the time she spent in a mental hospital. She had already attempted suicide by overdosing on 50 aspirin when she was committed by a psychiatrist after telling him she needed a rest. She describes the routines, levels of privilege patients can earn, her roommate and other patients, as well as her own state of mind. As she gains a better understanding of  herself and reality, she earns more privileges, finally gaining her release from the hospital. At the end of the book she looks back over that time in her life, trying to figure it out and draw some conclusions. While this book is not long, it offers much to think about.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True-Life Journey by Rachel Simon

riding the bus

Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True-Life Journey by Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon, a writer and teacher, agrees to accompany her slightly younger sister Beth, when she rides city buses around the Pennsylvania city where she lives. Beth, who has mild mental retardation, lives on her own with income from SSI and started riding the buses after losing her job busing tables at a fast food restaurant. As Rachel makes a commitment to return regularly for a year to ride the buses with Beth, she gets to know the drivers Beth likes and doesn’t like, her caseworkers, her boyfriend Jesse and her routine. Rachel admires Beth for her feistiness and independence, but gets impatient, exasperated and angry with Beth’s stubbornness, especially when she puts her health or safety at risk. Rachel also feels humbled by the way some drivers look after Beth and form a safety net for her. Interspersed with the current account are vignettes from their family history, including their parents’ separation and divorce and the children’s subsequent division between their parents.

The author recounts how both parents have taught all the siblings to have a sense of responsibility for Beth and how she herself personally struggles sometimes to be a “good sister,” even when she loses her patience with Beth. This honest narrative of the challenges of accepting Beth as she is, while trying to live her own life, reminds the reader of the importance of family, friends and community. Every reader will find life lessons in this book.

Here’s a clip from the made-for-tv movie:

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

no crystal stair

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem  Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

This title is the life story of famed Harlem bookseller, Lewis Michaux.  The writer of the book, his great niece, imagines his life through a variety of lenses: transcripts and audio recordings of Michaux himself, family archives, articles, books and interviews with family and community members who knew him.  Nelson writes that she did her best to portray Michaux’s life accurately, but had to fill in gaps with “informed speculation” to make a more complete picture.  Black and white photos and illustrations by R. Gregory Christie add authenticity and complexity to the novel.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would.  ( I’m not usually a fan of informational books.)  Perhaps due to the liberties the writer took with the bookseller’s life, the story flows, feeling more like a novel than an ordinary biography.  Michaux’s strong friendships with notables like Malcolm X and poet Nikki Giovanni enhance the value of what Michaux did: creating a Harlem bookstore full of books exclusively about African-Americans that also became a local intellectual center.  I recommend this books for students wanting to learn about African-American history or simply read a story of a self-made man who followed his own dreams.

Here’s a very cool book trailer that is in line with the feel of the book:

Runaway Girl by Carissa Phelps

Runaway Girl by Carissa Phelps

At the age of twelve, Carissa’s mom packed her daughter a suitcase, drove her downtown, and left her in the lobby at Juvenile Hall.  That was the start of Carissa’s downward  spiral.  She time in more group homes than she could count, running away from most of them.  She was raped and forced to become a child prostitute.  When she was shy of fourteen years old, Carissa was finally arrested and spent six months locked up in Juvenile Hall.

With the help of the kindness of many people, this young woman was able to save herself from the streets and salvage her life.  Although it wasn’t a simple or easy journey, Carissa ended up earned a law degree and an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) from UCLA.  Her story will haunt teen readers with its honesty and raw emotion, making it a hard book to put down.  I would recommend it to fans of Dave Pelzer’s “Lost Boy” books, readers who liked Push by Sapphire and teens who enjoy urban drama.