Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End, Once Upon A Time

The wrapping paper has all been swept from view, scooped into a a recycle bag and placed on the curb. The stores are reopened, but no longer sporting their incessant holiday hours. Traffic is still heavy, but seemingly less manic.

For now, at least part of the holiday season is over.

My Christmas tree still stands, and the family still hovers, but the pace of the day is beginning to fall into its regular rhythm. This year we have rain instead of snow and I am grateful. I can handle this.

However, it is not over yet. The end of the week, the month, this year still looms. 2011 can count its remaining days on the fingers of only one human hand. The end is near. This is how I have always seen December 31st - as a conclusion, as a deadline, as the last day for me to do all that I need to get done this year.

This time of year was THE END, once upon a time, but I have started to see it through a new lens.

I can't wait to begin a new year. I am curious as to what comes next in my life, in the world around me and with all of my family and friends. I don't see this week as the end of a year, instead, I now see it as a passageway to more time. An entire year of more living.

It could be fun. It could be scary. It could be boring, funny, contemplative, thrilling, or fantastic.

The fact of the matter is, it could be anything, and I can't think of anything more exciting than that!!

As we ready ourselves for all that 2012 has in store for us, I am going to take my week to turn my full attention to my family while we have each other together. I will return to Rivera Runs Through It next week when I look forward to hearing what you have planned for the year ahead!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Little Brother [YA Book Review]

Thank Goodness the Timing Was Right

Just over ten years ago I was teaching in a school right across the water from the World Trade Center when our world changed forever. My brother was overseas in the Marines, my mother was home alone and I stood before classroom of students who didn't know if their parents made it to work that morning and whether or not they should be happy if they did.

I was scared. I was angry. And I was comforted by the enormous military planes that flew literally next to my classroom window. As I drove home from work on roads filled with military vehicles I didn't, for one moment, worry about my privacy, my rights or my freedom. I didn't consider the trade-off for security, however, when it became apparent that security = less privacy, I didn't argue.

I wasn't a bad guy. I had nothing to worry about. I was on the same side as the security force. Those who were questioned deserved it for some reason.

That was then... I don't agree with those beliefs any more. I don't know what changed my mind, or when I began to see the light, but I know if I had read this book before coming to this epiphany, I would have hated it. I think I would have been furious. I wonder if this book alone would have been nough to change my mind.

The Synopsis

Our protagonist, Marcus Yallow, is a high school student with some amazing computer skills. He does not just surf the Internet, he creates the waves. He is well versed in alternate reality gaming (live and/or virtual), cryptography, hacking, working around a system's software and building his own hardware. His closest friends can do the same. This is how they "play."

The story begins, simply enough, with Marcus and his friends cutting out of school to get a jump on the latest clue in their ARG (alternate reality game) in one of the seedier parts of San Francisco. They are armed to the tee with techie gear to help them with the game when all of a sudden an explosion rocks their world. San Francisco was attacked by terrorists and everyone in the city is in a panic. As Marcus and his friends try to make their way home, they are picked up by the Department of Homeland Security.

Marcus, who has a history of being uncooperative with authority figures, is suspected to be a terrorist and treated as such. Little Brother is the story of how one American teenager, with the intelligence and skills to do so, took on the DHS along with an entire underground movement to show them how flawed their security system was.

My Review

The title of Little Brother is a nice tip of the hat to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four and I argue that this book is just as haunting as the Orwellian classic, particularly if you live in America. I found the book fascinating from page one. Marcus, or w1n5t0n as he was known in the beginning of the story, is an intriguing character - he begins as a kid just looking to have a good time until circumstance turns him into a political activist. His ability to transform his skills once useful in his gaming and hobbies into the tools needed on the cutting edge of homeland security is fascinating. This book is full of suspense, espionage, politics, techie-talk, math and somewhere, in between all of the drama, is the incredible coming of age story of a kid in California that had to grow up way too fast.

There were so many points in my reading where I longed to be in my classroom again! Cory Doctorow does an amazing job of describing some fairly complex mathematics topics that I would love to share with students. The real-life applications of the concepts taught in the seemingly intangible world of mathematics seemed to jump off the page as Marcus teaches us about the intricacies of code, the problems with a test being only 99 percent accurate, and just living in a world of playing against probabilities all beg to be shared with high school students who can't see where mathematics could possibly come to life. In addition to the mathematics alive and well within these pages was the the overwhelming need for this book to be used in either an American History or Political Science class! There are a number of debates in Marcus's classes that simply beg the reader to put down their books for just a moment to engage others in a discussion about the Bill of Rights, the founding fathers and what it truly means to be an American.

I highly recommend this book. I dare to go so far as to say it is a must read for young adults. Marcus and his friends find ways to make a difference in their world without violence, without threats, without terror. This is not to say that they are free from danger. The book is exciting and thrilling, but also inspiring. I think it is an important book for those who may feel left out of the political discussion because our system deems them too young to vote.


I have to add one note about the Afterwords in this book. At first, when I saw that there was an Epilogue and multiple Afterwords I couldn't stop laughing. I thought the book would never end! However, when I read them I found them to be incredibly informative and useful. Each afterword was written by another "expert" in one of the fields addressed in the book. There was also a recommended reading section for anyone who's interest was piqued and wished to learn more about the worlds of security, cryptography, and even hacking. The value in each of these sections was that each of these topics were explained in a way so that the reader could understand their legitimacy. I found each of the afterwords valuable and a perfect end to a book full of thousands of new personal curiosities.

Have you read Little Brother?
Do you see computer hacking as a bad thing or a person's right to explore their own software/hardware?
Do you ever feel like "Big Brother" is watching over you?

This book was read and reviewed as part of my YA Read-a-Thon. This December I am reading as many real-life YA novels as I can in one month's time! Join in, check out the list of books that were recommended to me HERE. Or check into my YA Read-A-Thon Store to buy the books from

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

After all of the books I have been reading this summer, I was quite surprised to find a 58 page book on Joe's [English teacher] reading list! A nice short story about a family inviting a "plain" woman into their homes to be a new wife and mother. The woman, Sarah, must get used to living away from the sea she so adores in order to take on this role. I remember, when I was younger, watching a TV special based on this book - it was OK, as was this book.


I recall, my students at the time I read this book, were more inclined to pick this book off of the summer reading list rather than one of the others, merely because it was so short! When you were in school and picking books to read off the summer required reading list how did you make your selection?
How would you make your selections if put in that position now?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What IF #19 [Writing Prompt]

What if #19:
What if one of your wishes could be granted this Christmas?

Image source
Christmas is a magical time of year. Once we've freed ourselves from the insanity of the commercial world around us and take the time to reflect upon what Christmas is all about, the warm and fuzzy feelings return. Most children still have a firm grasp on the miraculous magic that the season holds. This isn't just because they still believe in Santa Claus and flying reindeer, it is because the grown-ups in their lives keep the magic alive! As the Christmas season approaches, children have the sense to make their wishes known, and the grown-ups in earshot do what they can to grant those wishes in a way that even Santa himself couldn't do.

So what if there was someone listening closely to you this year? What if the rule for grown ups was that only ONE very special wish could be granted each year? What would your special wish be this year? Would it be a cool new gift, a job, a vacation, a wish for someone else? It can be anything... this is Christmas, after all!

Write it down, let the world know - who knows? Maybe someone will be listening! You can think about it as a piece of your own personal Vision Board (a la The Secret). 

Link up your post below.

Each week the Rivera Runs Through It blog presents a different "What If...?" question for you to explore.
Link up your own post about this week's question. If you have arrived at this post and the inlinkz tool is closed, or you don't have a blog, then please leave your response (or link) in the comment section below using DISQUS.

For a list of all of the What if questions asked so far, 

Monday, December 19, 2011

There's Still Time to Give...

The holiday season is almost over. The new year is practically upon us. For many it means starting anew in some way, but what if it meant rewriting the entire script of your life?

There are some new beginnings that we rush to, open armed, full of hopeful anticipation. Then there are the others that we find ourselves swept up in unawares, but unforgivably present and demanding full attention. There is one family in New Jersey who, this holiday season find themselves in the latter situation - their world has changed top to bottom, left to right, front to back, nothing will be the same because of a tragedy none of them will forget.

A mother was murdered, the father committed suicide and two children are left behind.

These things are not supposed to happen. No one has a "just-in-case" plan in place for this scenario. Grandparents aren't supposed to become parents in the passage of one weekend. However, the road of life is not paved with gold, it is more like New York City streets after the winter's quelled - some streets remain whole, others cracked, while some, like the street of life this family found themselves on this weekend, have enormous sinkholes right in the center clogging up all the traffic.

One family can't fill that sinkhole alone. They need help. Help from friends, from family, and from you!

A donation page has been set up at for the Trapp girls. I implore you to dig deep, and give what you can. I knew Heather when we were kids and my heart is broken over this loss. The world isn't supposed to work this way, not as far as I am concerned, anyway, but, perhaps, together, we can make it better for Heather's children.

Please DONATE.

Marcelo in the Real World [YA Book Review]

Let's Start At the Beginning

I've been approaching this YA Read-A-Thon that I'm doing in the month of December quite strangely. I asked for recommendations of realistic, or real-life, young adult novels and I have taken those recommendations blindly. I take the title and author given to me by strangers on the Internet, search out the book, pick it up and start reading. With each book I have absolutely no idea what I am about to read when I open the first pages. So far, it has turned out to be a pleasant experience, and rather exciting!

This has shown me the incredible importance of voice and first lines/paragraphs of a book. In Marcelo in the Real World I knew, by the third sentence that Marcelo was not a typical teenager like the protagonist of my previous read, Looking for Alaska. I think Francisco X. Stork should be applauded for this! Here are the first three sentences so you can see what I mean:
"Marcelo, are you ready?"
I lift up my thumb. It means that I am ready.
Did you catch it? It means that I am ready. Such a simple statement, but within it carries a bit of the story of Marcelo. Marcelo is someone who thinks that a "thumbs up" needs explaining. Now... what kind of kid would think that?

Of course, as the sentences continue we get more and more clues about the things Marcelo feels he needs to explain to us and the things that are said to him, but I am fascinated by the fact that even if I stopped right here, at the third sentence, and I thought about it I would already have some pretty good ideas about who Marcelo is.

But I digress...

Who Is Marcelo?

 Marcelo Sandoval is a junior in high school who is on the autism spectrum. Marcelo explains it in the following way,
From a medical perspective, the closest description of my condition is Asperger's syndrome. But I don't have many of the characteristics that other people with Asperger's syndrome have, so that term is not exactly accurate. (page 55)
Arturo, Marcelo's father, believes Marcelo is more than capable of functioning in the "real world" given the opportunity. On the other hand, Marcelo has been enrolled in a special school his entire life and doesn't want to leave.

A deal is struck. Arturo says that Marcelo can choose at the end of the summer whether or not he will go back to his special school in the Fall for his senior year, or attend a public high school for his senior year in high school if and only if he agrees to work in his law firm in the mail room and abide by the rules of the "real world" for the entire summer. Marcelo, who was looking forward to working with the horses at his school over the summer, is heart-broken and resistant to the idea, however, he decides the deal is fair as long as he can pick his own school no matter what happens over the summer.

The novel takes us through Marcelo's entire summer adventure in a first person perspective that shed's a light on Arturo's law firm that the "real world" oftentimes misses. Throughout the novel, as Marcelo asks questions to try to gain a greater understanding of the rules of the real world, he often leaves the real world with questions of its own. For this reason, Marcelo makes an impact almost everywhere he goes whether he realizes it or not. This is a coming of age story, but, surprisingly, it also has a bit of a mystery in it as well.

My Review

Marcelo is an amazing protagonist. His voice, while often characterized in our "real world" as special-needs, is portrayed in this novel as a perspective of child-like clarity. Right and wrong, and trust in fellow humans, have not been blurred by the compromises of age, experience or competition. At first, this seems like a weakness that will surely bring Marcelo down in the nitty-gritty world of a highly competitive law firm, but, in time, it serves as a pure lens through which to survey the world as it is. I was left wondering should Marcelo be learning the rules of the real world, or should we, in the "real world", be adapting to his rules?

Beyond Marcelo, there is a cast of characters serving various purposes in Marcelo's world - we have a love interest, a villain (I actually put down the book at one point and yelled, "This guy is such a scumbag!"), the villain's father, Marcelo's family, Marcelo's religious mentor (Marcelo is very interested in religion), a lawyer who seems to be a genuine "good guy" and a mysterious girl that Marcelo feels compelled to save. I was surprised by the depth of this book. As I kept reading further and further and the plot kept getting deeper and deeper I was amazed by all the story within.

This was an excellent read. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in coming of age stories and particularly anyone who has family members, friends, classmates, or students on the autism spectrum. Having finished the book more than a week ago, I can honestly say I miss Marcelo. He made me think different, and there are so many times in this life where that is the greatest gift of all.

Have you read Marcelo in the Real World?
If so, what was your perspective?
For those of you who know someone on the autism spectrum, what have you learned from them lately?
Who/what make you "think different"?

This book was read and reviewed as part of my YA Read-a-Thon. This December I am reading as many real-life YA novels as I can in one month's time! Join in, check out the list of books that were recommended to me HERE. Or check into my YA Read-A-Thon Store to buy the books from

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Writing a Letter to My 10 Year Old Self

Dear Nicole,

I love you. I know these words are thrown around quite a bit as of late, and that you are steeped in a world of love from your family and friends and even Ashley (she's such a great dog), but not everyone is always going to be there to keep telling you how much they love you. So I'm writing to tell you I love you, always. Who am I? I'm you, but from a different time. OK, I think you can handle this - I'm you from the future!

Here's the deal, in the next couple of years the world your world is going to get pretty harsh. I'm not going to tell you how, when or why (spoilers!), but I will tell you this: IT IS ALL GOING TO BE OK. You'll get through it all. But you have to remember this: I love you, you are special and you can't let go of your joy. I only wish we could sit and talk right now because I believe I could learn so much more from you than vice versa, but here are some things I want you to keep in mind:
  • being strong doesn't mean being insensitive. You have a right to your feelings; express them.
  • keep writing to me. I love the diaries, journals and other creations I find all of the time!
  • kids are mean, you are not the problem. I don't even think they realize how cruel they can be.
  • keep dreaming, keep reading, keep your faith and keep smiling.
  • perms smell bad. They also require that you style your hair every morning. Keep this in mind - are you ready for that kind of commitment?
  • boys are just people too. The ones you hang around happen to speak English - go ahead and talk to them.
  • I don't need to tell you this, but that family of yours ROCKS - keep them close, tell them you love them, mean it, cherish it and protect whoever needs protecting whenever they need protecting.
  • keep on having yard sales and saving your money and rolling up your coins - they always come in handy!
  • this one is really, really important and took me a really long time to learn, so I am going to plant the seed a little bit early: Letting go of things is not the same as letting go of people. You can get rid of stuff without harming or losing the memory of the person who got it for you, or a time you shared with them. Remember this. Keep precious what matters: time spent with those you love, not things.
Those tips were for you, here are two things that can help us in the future:
  • RECIPES!!!! GET THEM ALL - from Grandma, from Mommy, from Aunt Suzie, from anyone you can think of - just start writing them down, gathering them together. If you can do this you will be a hero to many!
  • HOUSE KEEPING - start spying on Mom and Dad whenever they are doing house stuff. Mommy's right, that is your house too - why not learn about it? I'm just saying. It might be cool to know. It might be useful... someday.
So that's it. I mean, of course, do well in school, go to church, and have fun, but that's it! I'm not telling you about any future stuff - no lotto numbers, no cool new inventions, nothing like that - those are spoilers and the last thing I want to do is take away the great adventure of discovery that the years in front of you are going be!! Enjoy the ride!

All My Love Always,
Old Nicole :)

This post was written in response to What if #13: What if you could talk/write a letter to your ten year old self? Link up, share your response and check in to Rivera Runs Through It Every Tuesday to see what the new "What if" question is! Or check in to the list of What If Prompts from the past to see which one you'd like to participate in!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This first novel of Betty Smith is a wonderful look back at Brooklyn at the turn of the century (20th). Francie Nolan is a poor, astute young girl growing up with her brother, Neely, in an ever-changing world. Every character in this book is stunningly vivid. I plan to recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it yet, especially girls/women, since it focuses mostly upon Francie's life and the women around her. I loved this book.

Dated: 08/19/02

It is quite interesting to me, looking back at this journal entry that I make no mention of the Bible reading in this book. For some reason, this is a fact that has always stuck with me from this book, but I guess, did not seem important to mention at the time...
What are some of the "little things" that stick with you from your favorite books?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Facing My Idol [or My Brush With Al Pacino]

Image source
In high school I was obsessed with Al Pacino. I don't know what came over me, but I was a half Italian-American, living in Staten Island, New York who had never seen the Godfather films until I was a teenager (it was unheard of!). Once I did there was no looking back.

Michael Corleone was such a fascinating character. As I delved further into Mr. Pacino's work and the nineties marched on, I found myself surrounded by characters who were larger than life, boisterous and engaging. I cheered, screamed and danced in front of TV screen when he finally won an Oscar in 1992. By the time I entered college I owned every single Al Pacino movie on video and my walls were plastered with his movie's posters. In 1996 when I saw Looking for Richard in an Indie theater in Manhattan, Al Pacino shifted from an actor I admired to a full-on genius and personal idol.

As luck would have it, in that same year, Al Pacino was starring in and directing Hughie, a two character play right on Broadway. I got third row tickets and made my plans.

I was going to meet my idol.

As the day grew nearer, I got more and more excited about the great meeting. I needed Al to understand how much I had loved Looking for Richard. I wanted him to understand that, unlike everyone else who would be clamoring for his attention at the stage doors, I was there to say, "Thank you," for shining such a beautiful light on the Shakespearean work, Richard III. I was not just trying to snap a pic of Michael Corleone, in the flesh. I needed him to know I not only saw his labor of love Looking for Richard, but that I also understood it.

The question remained - how could I convey this if only given a second of his time amidst a throng of fans?

And then it came to me. It was so simple, so easy. Two things, given the time, given the moment, would be all I would need to convey my message. First, I would ask for an autograph, not on one of my movies, posters or pictures, but, instead, on my copy of Richard III. Then, if I could speak to him I would boldly say, "A kiss, a kiss - my kingdom for a kiss!" echoing the sentiments of Richard when he utters, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" - for I felt a kiss from Al Pacino would be as valuable to me as a horse would have been to Richard.

That was the plan. I told everyone and we all agreed it was brilliant.

On October 25, 1996, at 8pm the show began and I watched, in awe, as Al Pacino took the stage mere feet in front of me. After the show I went out to the stage doors along with what felt like the entire population of midtown Manhattan! In other words, it was very crowded.

When I saw Al Pacino come out the stage door, I reached over the crowd and snapped some pictures, then handed the camera back to someone I was with and started to lean into the crowd while on my tippy-toes. Al was great - he was smiling, stopping for pictures, signing everything that was thrust toward him and feigning shock and surprise every time someone gave him some roses. As I watched his excitement over every Godfather, Scarface and Carlito's Way artifact thrown his way, I began to feel less confident in my glorious plan. It was also becoming clear that I would never be close enough to utter my well-rehearsed line, "A kiss! A kiss! My kingdom for a kiss!" So I just reached my arm through, holding my "New Folger Library" edition of Shakespeare's Richard III.

Finally, at one point, I felt it taken from my hand - I went back up on my tippy toes to look over the crowd to watch him sign. He did so quickly and turned to hand it back to the assistant who was holding all of the items from the crowd when all of a sudden he did a double take. It was written all over his face, "What the hell did I just sign? This isn't mine at all..." The smile he had plastered to his face from the moment he walked out the door was gone. My heart sank. I had made a horrendous mistake! Perhaps he would think it was an enormous disrespect to sign a Shakespearean work!

He turned to his assistant and asked, "Who gave you this?" I thought I was in trouble for sure. I felt like I was being called down to the principal's office. I was completely panicked. The crowd around me parted to allow me to take full credit for whatever it was that was happening. Then Al Pacino saw me and didn't hand the book to his assistant to hand to me, he grabbed my hand, placed my book in it, placed his other hand on top of it, looked in my eyes and, with a much smaller smile than the one he was flashing to the crowd around us all he said, "Thank you."

The signature, in black marker, is difficult to see.
It's coming off the side of Richard's head.
It was in that moment I confirmed what I had always known - I am not cut out for theater, for I could not remember my line! All I could say back, in a mousey squeak, but with a smile that could probably outshine Time Square herself was, "Thank you." He shook my hand once more.

And it was over. Al grabbed another artifact to sign, the crowd closed in around me - this time with lots of questions, What was that? or Did he write that book? or Is that him on the cover? or Wow! You're so lucky!

There was no picture of the moment. This was long before the age of the digital camera and when we still had a limited amount of pictures that could be taken on any one outing. My family and friends tried to catch a shot, but the crowd was too deep and before digital, you didn't just snap like crazy in hopes of catching a shot (not unless you were a professional photographer)! 

When I got back to my family and friends waiting for me, all I could think and say was, "I didn't say it..." I was so disappointed in myself. However, they were all just as awestruck as the crowd around me. They had seen what had happened and then someone said exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, "Are you kidding me, Nicole? Who cares that you didn't say your line! Tonight, when Al Pacino is going home in his limo, he is going to be thinking about the girl who brought him a Shakespeare book to sign! He might even tell his friends about you!"

I laughed, but saw the truth in it. Al Pacino, after all, is just a person, too. He might have been my idol, but that day I realized how normal  he was, which made him even more awesome.

It is hard for me, these days, to think about meeting my idol and how I would react or what I would do. As I get older and have more and more life experiences myself, it is difficult for me to place anyone on such a plane of greatness that I could not see them, at their cores, as a fellow human being with whom I could just communicate given a topic of mutual interest. For people I admire, it seems that finding such a topic would be even easier than someone who would otherwise be deemed "ordinary," but is someone unknown to me. In addition, growing up here in New York has given me plenty of opportunities to star-gaze, to see those über-famous people all over the city doing this and that and recognizing that while they may have a famous face and have different talents than I do which bring them notoriety, at our cores, we are similar.

This is not to say that I don't still squee after a brush with greatness. I'm not implying that I don't work my butt off for a great pic, if possible. And more than anything, this is not to say that I don't come off sounding/looking/acting like a complete idiot from time to time. I give you the 2010 New York Comic Con as a perfect example. I hadn't realized when I went (I was crazy sick and had done no pre-planning whatsoever) that James Marsters was going to be there, was giving a talk and then was giving autographs. I went to his talk, where I stood for an hour, then stood on line to get an autograph. I had something to ask him (I don't remember what), but when it came my turn, he had some canned line that he had been giving to each person on the line. I can't blame him, you have to do something to get through the day, right? But that was not ordinary human talk, it was fake-flirty meaningless talk, so, in vapid response, I giggled. I was one faceless female in thousands of people he had seen that day.
I know he played a vampire for years, but I have a feeling, if I had my wits about me that day,
I could have earned something a little less tongue-in-cheek than this from Mr. Marsters! :)

So, to answer the What if question that inspired this entire post, What if you came face to face with your idol? my answer is simple: I would hope to make an impression. It does not have to be a permanent one - I understand from my years in the pseudo-celebrity status of a high school teacher in a large public high school how difficult that could be when faced with so many different people edging to do so. However, a small impression like the one I had on Al Pacino, who I truly do believe reflected back on the night of October 25, 1996 and thought it was really nice that some twenty years old girl asked him to sign her copy of Richard III, is more than any one girl can ask for.

This post was written in response to What if #12: What if you came face to face with your idol? Link up, share your response and check in to Rivera Runs Through It Every Tuesday to see what the new "What if" question is! Or check in to the list of What If Prompts from the past to see which one you'd like to participate in!


What are your tales of glory and failure when it comes to meeting your idols?
How would you prepare yourself for meeting your idol?
Who is your current idol?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Looking for Alaska [YA Book Review]

How I Found Looking for Alaska
I asked people for their favorites. I asked for what they deemed the best in current realistic young adult fiction.

One name kept creeping up: John Green, and paired with that name was, more often than not, his novel Looking for Alaska.

I put the name on my mental list. I planned on picking it up at the library when I made my trip on Friday. However, on Thursday, when Christmas shopping at Marshall's, I found it on the check out line. I couldn't believe it.

I decided I would treat myself to this one Christmas gift and start my YA Read-a-Thon one day earlier than I thought.

It didn't take long for me to understand why so many people provided this book  as one of their favorites.

My Summary
We meet Miles Halter, a soon-to-be junior in high school, sitting in his Florida living room waiting for his "school friends" to bid him good-bye as he readies for a dramatic shift in life; he is leaving for a boarding school in Alabama. Miles, an intelligent and well-read teen obsessed with "last lines," knows what his parents seem unable to admit - there will be no going away party, Miles does not have "school friends" that would invest that much time to come say good-bye.

This is part of the reason Miles has asked to go to boarding school. He is on a quest for what he calls "the Great Perhaps" as inspired by François Rabelais's last words ("I go to seek a Great Perhaps."). Miles doesn't want to wait until he dies to seek "the Great Perhaps" so he, instead, asks if he can attend the boarding school his father attended as a teen, Culiver Creek Boarding School.

As readers, we are taken on Miles's coming-of-age journey where he finds not only a "Great Perhaps," but also friendship, love, and himself, in a world so unlike the one he came from that he has no choice but to learn from nearly every single experience, person and class. In stark contrast to his Florida life, Miles, nicknamed "Pudge," finds himself in a close-knit groups of friends that share all facets of life with him. One of the friends Miles is especially taken with is Alaska Young, the girl in Culiver Creek that every guy wants, but realizes is too much to handle. Miles finds himself enraptured, in love and, as readers, we are captivated along with him.

As the group grows ever closer and the Miles/Alaska relationship grows more complicated, the entire school is given a shock that shakes even the headmaster to his core. Miles is left questioning who he has become, the importance of his studies, his "Great Perhaps," his love of Alaska and motivations of all of his new friends. It is this portion of the book that John Green entitles "after" which leads us to an extremely poignant conclusion that leaves readers reflecting on their one time invincibility, their unavoidable mortality and the beauty of forgiveness.

My Review

This was the first John Green book I have ever read. I was impressed by his fluidity with the language. By the time I had completed the novel's first paragraph, I was in awe about how much I could say about Miles already. Green conveyed character not only through descriptions, situations and dialogue, but also through an extremely strong voice.With this skill he breathed rich, diversified characteristics into the entire world of Looking for Alaska.

Add me to the throngs who will recommend -- no push -- anyone who asks, to read Looking for Alaska. I imagine some parents might be concerned with some of the topics that are brought to life within these pages, such as school-wide pranks and mischief, underage drinking and smoking, and sexual content, however, I feel, for one, that it is precisely these types of "kids behaving badly" activities that lift up Looking for Alaska to a point where one can honestly say, "Yep. That's exactly what kids - even smart ones - would be doing in a situation like this!" I think when your young adult chooses this book to read, it would be important to remember that he/she is a young adult, not a young child and, before YA books became all the rage, children in the YA age group often found their way to adult novels.

 Have you read Looking for Alaska (or any other John Green books)? 
What's your opinion?
How do you feel about subjects such as underage drinking and sexual content finding their way into YA novels?
What's your favorite coming-of-age novel? 

 This book was read and reviewed as part of my YA Read-a-Thon. This December I am reading as many real-life YA novels as I can in one month's time! Join in, check out the list of books that were recommended to me HERE. Or check into my YA Read-A-Thon Store to buy the books from

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where Are My Feety Pajamas?

The following was written in response to this week's Red Writing Hood writing prompt from the Write on Edge blog. Here's the prompt from this week:
We’d like you to craft a piece of fiction or creative non-fiction around the holiday season... The piece should begin with “The doorbell rang” and end with “snow began to fall.”The middle is up to you, and the entire thing should be under 300 words.

That which follows is creative nonfiction. It is an amalgam of holiday/family gatherings from the last couple of years. 

The doorbell rang, or tried to. It's been on the "fix-list" for months, it makes a fractured buzz that only the dogs and I can identify as "doorbell." I run to the door hoping to get it open before my brother clutches the doorknob.

I don't make it.

"What the hell?" I hear his frustration before I see his crimson face. I don't want to laugh, but it's all I can do to keep my sanity in this house that is crumbling under my watch.

"Forgot to tell you," I say as he hands me the doorknob in a huff, "Doorknob's broken."

"I don't even want to talk about it," he says. No, the house is not perfect yet... , I think, wondering what other open sores he'll find in our childhood home.

I turn to the cooking, hoping everyone will enjoy the fabulous feast I'm preparing.

We laugh, eat and I notice the table is getting more crowded every year, even though I still feel the emptiness. We watch movies, play games and do all the things we used to do in the basement while the "grown ups" played poker and drank cordials upstairs.

At some point, after dessert, after too much wine, someone says, "I guess we're the grown ups now, huh?"

"Do you think they were as clueless as we are?" I ask.

"I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't be," my cousin says.

My brother adds, "Our parents were older."

"Sorry, dude, we're old," I remind him.

We fall silent. I'm about to submit to the weightiness of my reaffirmed adulthood status when I glance out the window and burst into a good old fashioned Snoopy dance.

My husband points out what I saw:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Please Stand By...

Tuesday's "What if" post is on a slight delay today due to massive headaches and a trip to my specialist. I try to have my posts scheduled because this happens more frequently than you would realize, but I've finally caught up to myself here...

Hopefully I will be able to share this with you later on tonight. For now, have fun adjusting your screen color with this:

Monday, December 5, 2011

December's Challenge: My YA Read-A-Thon

My Motivation
Last month I took on a challenge to write. I still can't believe I accomplished it. I wrote the first draft of a young adult novel. After finishing such a large endeavor, most authors advise stepping away from the work for at least three weeks before attempting to reread and/or edit the piece. It is my plan to return to my work in January, giving myself a full month of time and space between the writing and the editing.

It was an easy enough decision to make, however, as the end of November came closer and closer, the idea of not writing that story any more seemed closer to impossible. I decided I would have to come up with some thing else to occupy my mind (in addition to holiday preparations that are simply not distracting enough when you are as broke as I am!) so I would NOT be tempted to reopen my novel's file!

What I'm Doing 

I decided to do some very enjoyable research - I devised My YA Read-A-Thon! For the entire month of December I am reading as many real-life/coming of age young adult novels as I can (I have not set a number, because I do not know, realistically, what I am capable of at this point). For this particular venture I am not interested in Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal or any type of YA novel that is not what is considered "realistic." If you are wondering why, the answer is simple - my novel is a realistic YA novel, so I am looking to focus on that particular portion of the YA world.

How Will I Pick My Books

I made this decision in the last week of November. At the same time, I started requesting recommendations all over the virtual world - twitter, Reddit, Google+ - and have received a bunch of recommendations, but I am still looking for more. I am looking for the best real-life YA novels out there - your favorites, your recommendations, the ones that made you go hmm. I'm looking for the books I may have missed out on during my non reading times, during my recovery. I am working purely off of recommendations from others, and, after four days (and two books) on this journey, it has been amazing.

The List So Far

These are the books that have been recommended to me so far, in no particular order. If a series was recommended, I simply wrote down the first book in the series (because I have a serious problem with jumping into the middle of things!) Otherwise, if any MG (middle grade) books were recommended, I did not put them here, but will probably look into them at a later date!
  • Green, John Looking for Alaska [read: my review]
  • Stork X. Francisco Marcelo in the Real World [read: my review]
  • Kelley, Tara Harmonic Feedback
  • Han, Jenny The Summer I Turned Pretty
  • Nelson, Jandy The Sky is Everywhere
  • McCafferty, Megan Sloppy Firsts
  • Ockler, Sarah Twenty Boy Summer
  • Hopkins, Ellen Crank [read]
  • Doctorow, Cory Little Brother [read]
  • Hoban, Julia Willow
  • Perkins, Stephanie Anna and the French Kiss
  • Portman, Frank King Dork
  • Phillips, Gillian Crossing the Line
  • Anderson, Laurie Halse Speak [previously read]
  • Morgan, Nicola Wasted
  • David, Keren When I Was Joe
  • Asher, Jay 13 Reasons Why [previously read]
  • Brooks, Kevin Lucas

I am in a battle with my library (not really, but I'm internally disappointed with them) over the lack of availability of many of these books. I am creating a mega-hold list so the books can be shipped over here so I can pick them up, but eventually, I will get my hands on them. There are also a couple of recommendations here that I have already read and would recommend myself, but, for the most part, these are new to me which is very exciting!   

What This Means for Rivera Runs Through It...

Due to this challenge, you should expect a bunch of book reviews coming at you this month! I'm working on Looking for Alaska and Marcelo in the Real World as we speak, as they are my first two completed reads so far, so expect them  at some point this week! Along with, who knows what else (I have to select and start reading my third book already!). Also, I would love to hear from you if you have read any of these books or if you have any others you would like me to add to my list! (Some of the above might not make it to my library in December, so I might need replacements.)

If You Want to Follow Along

I suppose there are two ways to follow along all of my madness beyond just waiting around for posts here on the the blog. One is on twitter - I have been tweeting about my readings using the hashtag #myYAReadAThon. The other, of course, is to befriend me on Goodreads - a site I have been involved with for the longest time and KNOW I am still not using to its fullest capacity!

Whichever you choose, I hope we can share some great book fun this month!

I put all of the books in one Amazon store called "My YA Read-A-Thon" which can be accessed here on Rivera Runs Through It, or as a stand alone store. Either way, it's a pretty good resource for reviews and, if you want to buy one of the books I would truly appreciate your patronage to amazon through those sites!

Happy Reading!!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I am happy to say I am officially a 2011 winner of NaNoWriMo. I wrote 50,000 words within the month of November, but I told you that already. What I did not tell you, what I could not tell you was that I finished the novel. I am pleased to say, that tonight, at just over 70,000 words I reached THE END.

This is merely a first draft. I have not reread anything I have written all month (Lord help me!), so I have no idea what the future holds for these 70K words of mine, but I feel pleased that I have come this far. The plan now, as difficult as it is to even think of, is to walk away from these words and not look at them until January. At that point I will sit down, read (armed with some sort of editing device), and rip my darling to pieces.

In the interim, it is back to blogging, reading and writing short stuff.

If you are curious as to how my month of writing fell out, below is a picture of the stats so meticulously gathered by the NaNoWriMo website. You can see there was a lot of sporadic writing. There were good days, bad days, healthy days, pained days, and some serious marathon sessions of writing. It was quite an experience overall and I hope to participate again.
total words written is less than 70K, because I was not permitted to update after midnight on 12/1/11.
I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the world now that November is over!