Nice Try, Dr. Schmidt

At the start of the summer, I signed up for a NetGalley account. Quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d be approved for an account, but I figured my role as an ELA teacher and YA blogger might help. I was quickly approved, found myself requesting titles, and then I waited. The first book I requested was rejected. I figured, “Oh well.” I certainly have a million and two titles sitting here to read. My friend Kate is an enabler recommends great YA for me to read and passes along ARCs for my classroom. I certainly wasn’t going to go without books to read.

A few days later, I was a book I requested was added to my bookshelf. And almost immediately the next book was added to my shelf. I figured out how to add the books to my Nook, and I was off and running. I loved the first book I read, Before I Let GoBefore I Let Go. I couldn’t wait to read the next, but of course, I’m also in the middle of summer book studies, curriculum, prepping for a course I’m teaching in the fall, my summer job, and getting ready to go back to school. Talk about First World Problems–too much to read. All people should have this to stress over.

During the last two weeks, I’ve been reading Revolution by Deborah Wiles and Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke. The books couldn’t be more similar or more different. Revolution is an “assigned” book and part of the Book Love Summer Reading Group. Jane Sinner is an advanced copy via Net Galley.

Revolution is set in Greenwood, Mississippi during the summer of 1964–Freedom Summer. The story documents what happens when Freedom Riders arrive to help register African Americans for the vote. Wiles uses strong first person narrators–Sunny and Raymond–and a scrapbook of historic photos, documents, song lyrics, and speeches to provide a clear sense of time, place, and person.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is set in Calgary, Alberta in present day spring and summer. The story documents Jane Sinner’s life in community college as she earns the credits needed for her high school diploma. Told through diary entries, the reader gets a strong sense of Jane’s voice.
Both novels are coming of age stories. Through the events Sunny witnesses firsthand, she begins to question what it means to be a white person of certain means in the South. At the beginning of the novel, everything is very cut and dry for Sunny. She’s very certain of everything and everyone’s place in her world, but of course, that all changes–and changes very quickly. Sunny finds her voice. The novel is gripping and heartbreaking, and the reader changes as much as Sunny.
Jane, on the other hand, changes as well (I hope). Unlike Sunny, Jane is not the most reliable narrator. Jane applies for and ends up on an internet reality show House of Orange. And it is this situation that lets the reader see how Jane is capable of hiding the facts from everyone, including herself. As the show continues, it appears that Jane can no longer hide from what she’s really running from. Like Sunny, Jane is forced to confront her world. Unlike Sunny, Jane’s world is one of her own creation.

Both novels provide entertainment for the reader. They are both books I haven’t been able to put down. They are both books I found myself slowing down at the end because I didn’t want them to end. They are books that were difficult to read at the same time simply because I wanted to read both–at the same time. I had to divide my time between the two books.

However, there are clear differences between the books. Revolution provides readers both a window and a mirror. Sadly, Revolution reflects back to readers issues we still see in 2017. Hopefully, it will help readers understand why voter id laws prevent people from voting and the historical context for these laws. It explains to readers why gerrymandering is a serious issue and needs to be addressed. It provides context for our most recent Presidential election. Revolution also provides a window to another time. Depending on the reader, Revolution may also provide a window into a different world. Revolution clearly shows life in Jim Crow South. Fear, poverty, and oppression are clearly and honestly depicted in the novel. Without preaching or simply listing aspects of history, life during Freedom Summer becomes real for the reader.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner simply reflects life to the reader. In this case, it reflects life among friends, peers, and siblings–how we see others and how we decide to show ourselves to others. Jane Sinner reflects “reality” television to the reader–what’s seemingly real isn’t always.

The good news is that Net Galley notified me that three more books I requested have are on my shelf. And the lesson I’ve learned is that in order to read books I can actually put in my students’ hands immediately, I have to pace my requests on Net Galley.

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