Sunday, April 19, 2015

One Fat Summer, by Robert Lipsyte

Bobby Marks hates the summertime.  Every summer, Bobby’s family heads out to their annual vacation in the resort town of Runson Lake, where the most popular activity is laying out at the beach.  As for Bobby, he’d much rather hide his huge body away under layers of winter clothing, since his obesity makes him an easy target for bullies.  Bobby’s attitude takes a sudden change once he goes to work as a landscaper for the crotchety old Mr. Kahn, when he finds that mowing lawns and trimming hedges out in the hot sun has caused him to start sweating off his excess pounds.  Yeah, things are really looking up for Bobby Marks….at least until he runs into an angry local teen who swears that Bobby has stolen his job!

I absolutely loved the chance to disappear into the world of the 1950s, when kids could walk to the beach by themselves and parents only got worried if they weren’t home before the streetlights came on.  There were no cell phones or text messages back then, so there was no way to call home if you were running behind.  Most kids had a set curfew for when they were expected to be home, and it was a huge deal if they stayed out too late.  The rest of the time, though, kids had a whole lot more freedom than they do today, so it’s no surprise that Bobby has plenty of room to get into his own kind of trouble!

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this book was the way that the author described how both Bobby and his best friend, Joanie, were particularly sensitive about the flaws in their appearances.  All it took was some regular exercise for Bobby to start losing weight, but Joanie is cursed with an enormous nose.  What exactly is she supposed to do about that?

What about you?  Do you spend much time thinking about how you look?  Are you happy with every part of your own body, or is there anything that you would change if you had the chance?  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

Jerry Renault is an unremarkable freshman at Trinity, a Catholic school which is home to a secret society of upperclassmen known as the Vigils.  These seniors are known for bullying younger students into performing outrageous pranks, such as loosening all the screws in classroom furniture to make it collapse.  When the school’s acting headmaster takes over the annual chocolate sale fundraiser, each boy is expected to sell a record fifty boxes apiece.  Except for Jerry Renault, that is, because the Vigils have ordered him to cause a stir by refusing to sell the chocolates for ten straight days.

This minor act of rebellion escalates out of control as Jerry continues to refuse to sell the chocolates, even after the Vigils’ order has expired.  He’s quickly marked as an outcast, and it becomes clear that this fundraiser isn’t so much about money as it is power, and whether it’s the teachers or the Vigils who really control the school.  I never really liked this type of “man vs. society” conflict when I was younger since it seemed so unfair that the entire world was ganging up on one person.  As an adult, though, I’ve since learned that life isn’t always fair.  This hard fact is especially true when it comes to people who have the guts to be different or to take an opposing viewpoint.

Why do you think that some people choose to take a stand on a certain issue, even when it means they could potentially be embarrassed or humiliated?  After all, wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the program and not make any waves?  Do you think that there might be some kind of breaking point that makes people want to stand up and rebel, even if it’s over an issue that might seem trivial to others?