Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reading Along on I-94 - A Monster Calls - Part 3

This might be one of my favorite discussions when it comes to Reading Along on I-94! I really want to let you read so I just want to quickly say this discussion is between Colby and myself. You can catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you want but you definitely want to read this post. Please share your own thoughts with us, too!

JEN: The first time I read this book, I was a bit confused about the monster. I love fantasy so I was okay with a monster come-to-life tree visiting him but I was really confused by him. In a way the monster and his stories remind me of A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

The monster's first story is of the prince who killed the young woman he loved to be able to blame it on the evil queen so he could get her out if the kingdom. I can't remember even tell you how many times I reread the story trying to figure out what he meant by this story.

COLBY: I like the Christmas Carol comparison. I was thinking the same thing. I’ve only read the story once. Did you ever figure out what he meant?

JEN: After reading all the way through, I kind of think the monster was trying to tell Conor that sometimes life is going to be crap. You can expect things to be be perfect or even to go well all the time. There are times when you are going to get dealt something horrible and you have to deal with it.

COLBY: This book was so sad. A big thing that I took away from the story is that sometimes the right choices suck.

JEN: I could see that, life is hard and Conor has to deal with one of the most horrible hard parts of life. I also think the story is telling him that there really isn’t anyone to blame. Conor wants to blame the story on the Queen and thinks he should be mad at his grandma but really it’s not his grandma’s fault, or his mom’s fault...or even Lily’s fault at school. It’s just cancer and no one gives you cancer, it just happens.

COLBY: I like what you said about the monster trying to show Conor that no one is to blame. That is a hard concept for people, especially kids, to understand.

JEN: I think it’s so much easier to want to blame someone and it’s harder to deal with something when there isn’t anyone to blame.

COLBY: I’m 30, and last Wednesday when my van wouldn’t start and then the brakes went out in my truck in the same morning, I was looking for someone to blame.  

JEN: I kind of think all the blaming goes with being angry. People want to express their anger somehow and it’s seems easiest to take it out on someone even if that person isn’t to blame and sometimes that person isn’t even involved in any way.

COLBY: For me it feels good to feel angry when I have no control. I think one of the hardest things for Conor is that he can’t do anything to help his mom. He tries to help out around the house, and he tries to take care of himself but, no matter what he does, he has no power to change her situation.

JEN: I was just going to say that I don’t really get all that mad usually. I’m the kind of person who takes a deep breath and then thinks about what to do next. But I think what you’re saying is true, when you can’t take a deep breath and figure out how to solve it then it’s so much harder. And Conor is such a nice kid - you can tell because he does do all those things and cares so much about his mom. He’s trying so hard to deal with everything.

COLBY: Conor is a super nice kid, but I think that he has reached his breaking point. He has been so nice, but it isn’t helping. I am a pretty nice dude, but I think that at some point it is hard to be nice. You can only take so many deep breaths.

JEN: So that takes us to the second story that the monster tells Conor. This one I had to read over and over again, too. The second story talks about the Apothecary and the parson. The Apothecary wants to use the yew tree on the parson’s land but the parson tells him again and again that he can’t have the tree because he doesn’t believe in the work the Apothecary does. But when his daughters get sick and he finally throws everything he believes in out the window and wants the Apothecary to use the tree for his daughters it’s too late and they die.

COLBY: I hated this story. It was way too sad.

The second story rocked my world. I didn’t know what to think. I was all for the pastor standing up for what he believed in, and I thought the apothecary was a giant jerk. This story was very hard to read as a parent. I could see myself being in the same situation as the pastor. I have pretty strong beliefs, but at the same time, if my child was sick I would do ANYTHING to try and help them.

JEN: I think the story is trying to tell us not to judge other people’s ideas because, first of all, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and second of all, we never know when we might need to ask that person for help. And maybe even that it’s okay to ask others for help even if we don’t see eye to eye.

COLBY: It is hard not to judge peoples’ ideas when they go against what you believe. You don’t need to trash those beliefs, but the pastor kind of has to. It’s part of his job.

JEN: I see how it is part of his job but I don’t agree with it. Why do we have to bash other people? Why can’t we go about our own business and let people go about theirs. It’s fine if he doesn’t agree with it but I feel like his message should be strong enough to make people believe and he shouldn’t have to talk so negatively about the Apothecary the whole time. It makes me think of the world and countries interacting with each other. Show me what you are doing and how I can do something better and then I can think about maybe agreeing with you or at least seeing your side of things but don’t come and focus on why you think I’m doing something that’s so horrible.

That was kind of ranty...I was thinking about gay people, too. I feel like people should be able to do what they want to do. Let them live their lives and do what they believe in and don’t spend time trying to convince people that they are wrong.

Or what about banning books! Let books be books. Let authors tell their stories. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it, but don’t stop others from reading them.


COLBY: What does STAMP mean?

JEN: It means I’m stamping my foot because I’m mad.

COLBY: I wish that the religious community would back off with how they express their beliefs. They do not have to support things like same-sex marriage and abortion, but when they go around acting a fool, they make everyone that shares their faith look bad, and they don’t do a very good job of making their points.

JEN: Of course, now we’re generalizing, but I think there is truth in what we are saying. If I try to think simply and think of how another kid might think of this story as it relates to Conor, what I think the monster is trying to tell Conor is that he needs to be careful how he treats people, like his grandma, Lily, and now even his dad, because he will need them. If his mom does die, he’ll really need them. And even if she doesn’t die, they are still part of his family and he’ll need them at some point in his life.

What I think is so interesting about this story is that while Conor helps the monster destroy the pastor’s house, he is really ravaging his grandmother’s sitting room. He has so much anger inside of him and the monster lets him get that anger out by helping him destroy the house but then Conor realizes what he has done. This part of the book really had me thinking about the monster. I love fantasy so I easily just went with the idea of a monster strolling up to his house, but this made me feel like it’s really Conor dreaming or just being in a different state of mind as he thinks through his problems. Have you heard people say that they act out aggressively and they didn’t even realize they were doing it? It’s like their anger takes over and they’re on auto-pilot? That’s what I think happened to Conor and I think this is when, as a reader, I realized the monster was really inside Conor - well Conor’s manifestation of a way to deal with his emotions.

COLBY: I have not heard of people’s anger taking over them.

JEN: This is ridiculous, but on Teen Mom on MTV - I said ridiculous - there is a couple who struggle to get along. The girl in the relationship, her name is Amber, and sometimes she gets really mad and gets physically abusive to her boyfriend-fiance-ex. One time she just got so intense and she actually hit him really hard. Afterwards, when they talk about the situation and what was happening she explains that it’s like she blacks out. The rage takes over her and she doesn’t even know what she’s doing. She doesn’t even remember it but they have it on camera so it obviously happened. The doctor who talks through it with them explains that it is common in a case when someone has anger issues.

COLBY: I might need to check that show out.

Sometimes I struggle with believing people have some of the mental issues that they have. I am trying to do a better job of being open to that kind of stuff. I’ve been very lucky to not have to deal with a lot of those things myself.

JEN: I’m reminded of Laurel Snyder’s Bigger Than a Breadbox again! The mom in that story is so selfish, in my opinion, and it is so hard for me to understand how she can be so caught up with herself that she can’t even be there for her kids. But that happens, lots of unfun stuff happens to kids. I worked as a camp counselor for many years and one year there was a camper who had some cognitive delays and he would get frustrated and mad but he was overall a really nice kid. He was living with a foster family because his parents had disowned him. He was the youngest of 4 or 5 kids and he wasn’t a typically developing kid so his parents didn’t want him. The poor kid had to go to court and hear his parents explain this to a judge. He would see his mom in Wal-Mart and try to talk to her and she would just ignore him. How can you do that to your kid? It makes me cry just thinking of it. It’s bad enough that kids have their parents taken away from them because of death, but for a parent to just not want their child. That’s just so sad.


JEN: It is hard to think about people with mental illnesses or even just people dealing with really life-changing situations but I think that’s what makes books amazing. We get a glimpse into these people’s lives and it does help us build our compassion.

COLBY: It is amazing what books can do.

JEN: I can go on and on but I do have one more story and connection about understanding people who are grieving or dealing with strong emotions.

Right now I’m listening to Eli the Good by Silas House. I didn’t know what this book was about before I started listening - sometimes I hear about books and put them on my list and just start listening without previewing. Well, it’s about a boy in 1976, he’s 10 and his dad is a Vietnam veteran. The story tells about one summer when his family was dealing with a lot of their issues. His dad was dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam and his sister was a teenager and being teenager-y and other things, too.

My dad is a Vietnam veteran and I have identified with the character in this book in so many ways and so many times. Maybe that’s why I have a little more of an understanding of people strugging mentally. My dad wasn’t diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until I was in college and he was always great with us but there were definitely some times when he would get really angry and it was hard to understand how he could get so mad at sometimes something that was so trivial.

The boy in Eli the Good describes times when his dad seems so distant and that it’s hard to understand what he is dealing with because the boy or his family weren’t in Vietnam with him and they never sent through what his dad went through. It’s the same idea for us reading books - we can’t understand what they are going through except through the book because we’ll never be exactly in their shoes. And that’s how it is in life. We can never know another person and their experiences 100% because it just doesn’t work that way.

COLBY: Books really help me work with kids and interact with people in a way that I would never be able to do if I were not a reader.

My favorite quote ever is: “In five years you will be the same person you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.”

JEN: Thank you for letting me tell you that. This has been an emotional chat.

COLBY: Thanks for sharing. It blows my mind where talking about books takes us. We started this chat talking about a few pages of a book we both read, and ended up talking about life.

I feel that I am a better person right now than I was when we started chatting.

Thank you.

JEN: Thank you! It is amazing where books can take us. This is just evidence of how books aren’t just about the characters and the plot, they are about people.


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