Sunday, December 18, 2011

Don't Expect Magic

This young adult novel by Kathy McCullough will appeal to many audiences, but I'd say it is a story that many high school aged girls would enjoy as a Christmas gift. Delaney is a young girl from New Jersey, whose mother has recently died, and is shipped out to the west coast to live with a father she barely knows. As she struggles to get to know her father, fit in with a new town and school where everything seems bright and bubbly, dark and dreary Delaney struggles to find her way.
The interesting thing that brings Delaney and her father together is a secret that he has. While he is known as Dr. Hank, the renowned self-help author, Delaney discovers that his gifts really come from an unusual secret: he's a fairy god father. This comedic element directs the story away from Delaney's depression toward her inner search to see if she has inherited her father's gift.
The best aspect of this book is the unique "fairy" angle. McCullough does a great job creating an interesting tension between the reader's expectations of a fairy godmother and the rough and rugged Delaney who is as far away from pumpkins, balls, and glass slippers you could ever find. Her signature clothing is her boots which she designs herself. Equipped with skulls, flames, and blood, her boots garner lots of attention and a weary attitude toward her. Her progress in breaking down this rough wall of separation is an interesting part of the plot's development.
A light, clever story that will appeal to many.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Well, I'm back to my blog with a book recommended by a colleague at a dinner. How we got on the topic of Chinese mothers is beyond me since it was an educational association gathering, but perhaps it had something to do with teaching and discipline. That's what Amy Chua writes in her memoir about raising two daughters in the "Chinese way" (This phrase appears throughout the book).

She comes from a background of hardworking immigrants who taught her self-discipline through highly anti-western methods (another term Amy uses often is "westerners" which basically means Americans). She claims that traditional Chinese parents ignore a child's self-esteem when it comes to feedback about performance and encouragement when it comes to achievements.

Amy describes how she tries to raise her children in New Haven the Chinese way to be successful students and musicians. She describes in the great detail the numerous hours she spent hovering over her children like a taskmaster never withholding a critical remark and avoiding platitudes so as to discourage complacency. The chapters are all very short and this helps to cover many years of childhood well without getting too bogged down in family history. Some of my favorite chapters have to do with Amy and her youngest daughter railing at each other one moment and then cuddling in the next. The amazing thing to witness is how this intimacy slowly breaks down over the years and how Amy doesn't see it because her Chinese mothering blinds her to it.

This book is for men and women alike, in my opinion. I have learned that there is a fine line between encouragement and coercion and that one can motivate and even criticize in healthy ways. She is both inspiring as a parent and humorous as a writer. There is not a tough moment that she deals with that cannot be saved with a little comic relief. Anyone who raises kids should read this book (and then take a vacation from their kids for a few days lest they be tempted to be a tiger mother without much training).