Surviving High School, by Lele Pons with Melissa de la Cruz

Social media has become the message in several recent fictional works. The plot of Ngozi Adichie’sAmericanah, for instance, recounts the development of a commercially successful blogger, with some chapters take the form of blog posts. Surviving High School traces the spectacular journey of “Vine” impresario, Lele Pons. It serves as a verbal interpretation of her Vines—short, looping videos, like video tweets. Almost eleven million people follow Lele’s Vines. Her collection has set a world record for the number of “loops” or repeats.

Although Lele writes within the context of surviving the high school experience, she also unwraps a unique marketing strategy, adds a note of authenticity to young adult fiction, and shares her personal perspective on teen life in Miami with its over-the-top drama, anxiety, and elation.

She and co-author Melissa de la Cruz describe Surviving High School as a “fictional memoir” inspired by Lele’s life and her Vines. The story begins as Lele transfers to Miami High School as a junior. Any hopes for acceptance, let alone popularity, fade when her unconventional attire, her braces, and her lack of allies at school mark her as an outcast worthy of scorn. Nevertheless, Lele demonstrates remarkable buoyancy, because no one mocks her more completely than she does in her Vines. Bursting with creative energy, each day after school she writes, produces, acts in and publishes her videos online. As time passes, so many of her classmates watch her Vines that she gains the acceptance and popularity she craves.

To truly appreciate the book, view some of Lele’s Vines. The PG-rated slapstick and self-effacing content deliver moments of levity, naughty language, and sometimes a wry observation. For example, a chapter in her book describes the characteristics by which Latinas recognize each other—reggaeton (a kind of rough, monotone rapping in Spanish accompanied by dance moves), the telenovela slap, and loud cursing. Lele’s Vine, 3 Signs That Show a Person Is Latin, humorously demonstrates each feature.  After actress Cameron Diaz shared this particular Vine with her fans, thereby validating it, the number of Lele’s followers jumped from 6,000 to 600,000. Lele’s current followers number 10.9 million with 7 Billion views or “loops” of her Vines. Although she has achieved the popularity she sought, Lele has also learned the cost of celebrity and often pines for the days when she could merely hang out with her friends.

In June 2016, Lele Pons turns twenty. She works as a fashion model and aspires to become an actress. Her punishing physical comedy reminds me of Lucille Ball’s role in I Love Lucy. Should a studio revive Lucy, it might consider Lele as its star and rename the series, “I Love Lele.”

YA author and high school teen, Lele writes about herself and her friends. Clearly, Lele has something to teach older YA authors—whose stories are based on their own lost youth or the lives of their children—about the current iteration of teen life. Her writing and her Vines show today’s teens in action, with their language, values, and wardrobe. Although many of the videos feature pranks, others address issues of jealousy, relationships, and Lele’s observations on human behavior. Lele makes it a point to maintain a high personal moral standard, unlike characters in some YA novels. She also uses her celebrity to teach her followers kindness toward each other.

Surviving High School may entertain and subtly instruct YA readers, but it offers older readers and YA authors fresh insights to young adult characters and the role and value of Vines and other social media in marketing books.


Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes, by Barbara Hosbach

Straw hats

Barbara Hosbach invites the reader to come away to a place of quiet refreshment in the company of often overlooked biblical heroes. Taken as a whole, Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes, outlines a self-directed retreat or a series of twenty-eight daily meditations. The author sets the stage for each meditation with a substantial biblical quotation. She then expands on the scriptures looking for the untold story behind the often brief description of the featured character.  The author then carefully illustrates each character’s impact and applies the lessons learned to modern life. Each chapter concludes with four to six questions that assist the reader to effectively internalize the biblical teaching.

What impressed me most about this book was the way that Barbara, a retreat and workshop facilitator makes personal contact with her readers in each meditation installment. I could almost smell the coffee as Barbara figuratively sat across from me to share her own quiet reflections on biblical bit-players reminiscent of ordinary people we meet every day. She brings the fools, liars, cheaters to life, including an Old Testament helicopter mom, the wallflower who got the last laugh; the prostitute and several other “aliens” hiding in the family tree of King David and Jesus. She introduced me to the original, “Ms. Understood” and encouraged me through her account of the woman who marked her household with the Red Cord, declaring her allegiance to the One God.

Among the other heroes, Barbara ranks the disabled, doubters, a pampered beauty queen, home bodies, the rich, the poor, the arrogant, the humble, prophets, orphans, widows, worriers, outcasts, silent partners and a secret admirers of Jesus. One after another the heroes share the spotlight. Barbara recounts biblical themes that could have come from today’s tabloids–marital infidelity, the role of women in society, women in the military, espionage and psychological warfare. The impact of heroic deeds by these seemingly minor characters, form the matrix that binds together the greater biblical message.

For example, Anna the prophet and widow, age eighty-four, “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She lived to see the Messiah her dream realized when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem. Barbara shares her thoughts on this brief description, noting Anna’s youthful widowhood and long but solitary life. Barbara asks, did Anna choose to fast or was that the effect of her economic limitations? Barbara prompts me to consider the lives of local elders who frequent daily Eucharist. They were once newly-weds, but now live alone, taking consolation in the liturgy and church community. One of Barbara’s end-of-chapter questions asks if I (or you) or any of my friends have ever experienced a similar, abrupt change in circumstances, and “What opportunities for spiritual growth were present in those times?”  Life springs “opportunities” upon us all the time, if we see tragedies as such. Barbara reminds us to trust in God. God’s grace provides guidance. She also reminds us that God selects the weak and the improbable because God sees things differently than humans do. I feel good about that.

Clearly, I will re-read Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes on a regular basis as part of a program of spiritual enrichment. The good news is that there are many more characters waiting in the wings for inclusion in one of Barbara Hosbach’s future books.

If you want a sneak peak at Barbara’s stories, go to

Hosbach, Barbara. Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media. 2012.

(Photo and review, © 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Do you see what I see?

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Hermann Rorshach’s inkblots provoked responses based on what already existed in the viewer’s mind. If you don’t like inkblots, how about interpreting the images in clouds?

I look for faces, and usually find them.

Nancy, my creative wife loaned me the images presented here. If not inkblots, these close relatives come from a growing school of artistic expression: Alcohol Ink. No, the artists  don’t drink the alcohol. They apply alcohol soluble inks to ceramic tiles or “yupo,” a plastic material that in some ways resembles paper .

The results often dwell in the realm of the abstract, allowing the mind to interpret them as it wishes. Turning the tile, 90, 180 or 270 degrees allows many more interpretations, perhaps more meaningful than the first. The titles I use reveal my interpretations or prejudices. Feel free to release your imagination as you view these images.


I see the Southwestern USA, like New Mexico. Do you see the person?


Is the image above made from molten glass? Stained glass? Or something else?




Scallop shell?


A flower?

feathers and flowers


mystical-forest  Trees or forest?

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Sea slug (Nudibranch) ( or Alcohol Ink Image?

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Nerve network in your brain trying to figure this one out?


A tile drying on the back deck. Just ignore Nancy’s foot.

Quebec City, May, 2013


The expanse of water in the foreground represents the width of the north-eastern segment of Saint Lawrence River between Quebec City and the Atlantic. The Saint Lawrence River narrows as shown in the mid-left section of the photo. The narrowing or “kebec” in the language of Native American inhabitants of the area became Quebec in the language of the French settlers. To the right of the narrowing rises the modern Quebec City.  The city of Levis stands to the left. This narrow point in the Saint Lawrence Valley with its steep, high walls, gave Quebec a strategic advantage, one worth fighting for.

The following photos scan Quebec City from the decks of the Holland-America Cruise Ship Veendam when it docked on the north side of the Saint Lawrence River in early May, 2013. The point of view moves from right (north-east) to left (south-west) beginning with the massive, sprawling seminary building, bedecked with spires and a white flag marked with three red crosses. Its construction began in 1663 under the guidance of Bishop de Laval. It served as a residence and training facility for Roman Catholic priests. Later, the seminary gave rise to Laval University.



Between the seminary and the parking lot you see the Museum of Civilization located on Rue Dalhousie. It’s modern, angular architecture both blends and contrasts with the seminary on the heights above it.


The yellow, three story building (Panache) resembles similar waterfront structures in New Bedford, Massachusetts, once used for storage. The shops along this section of Rue Dalhousie offer a variety of architectural styles.


A replica of a portion of the French colonial shore defenses stands further to the south-west along Rue Dalhousie. Behind it, you see a diverse array of buildings, a band of trees and then, higher up, a portion of the city wall. On top of that barrier stood the main defensive batteries. The massive Chateau Frontenac currently sits on the site of the original French fort. The Chateau will appear in later views.


The modern stairs like these were not available when the British army attacked Quebec. The sheer cliffs blocked the infantry until they found a way around the seemingly impregnable defenses.


The extreme, upper right side of this picture shows the edge of the Chateau Frontenac, once the site of the main French fort. A flag pole and a park mark the upper left edge of the picture. That site was known as the Plains of Abraham, the battlefield where British General Wolfe defeated French General Montcalm. Both men died in that battle. As a consequence, Quebec became part of British Canada.


The opportunity to snap the following series of land-based photos came with a bus tour of Quebec City in May of 2013. Here is a small portion of the Plains of Abraham, now called The Battlefields Park. It serves as an extensive, year-round recreational area and war memorial.


A similar statue of Saint Joan of Arc, here located on the Plains of Abraham may be found in Central Park, New York. Pierre, the excellent tour guide commissioned by Holland-America explained that the same anonymous donor had installed these statues here and elsewhere.


 Not far from the statue of Saint Joan of Arc, this plaque commemorates the exact spot of another historic event in Canadian history.


The next series, a mixture of ship and land based photos follows from left (south-west) to right (north-east) along the top of the ridge over the Saint Laurence River. The Plains of Abraham rests just to the left, outside the scope of the photo.  Observe the huge hotel, the Chateau Frontenac (center), the Ministry of Finance building (to the right) and the Postal Building (on the right edge of the picture). Look for each building in later views.


The Chateau Frontenac as seen from the deck of the Veendam, appears with a popular means of reaching it, the Funicularie du vieux-Quebec, a glass-enclosed, elevator-railroad-lift that climbs the slope to the Chateau. The Funicularie runs behind the church steeple in the lower right portion of the photo.


The Chateau’s courtyard contains archeological excavations that show tourist portions of the original French fortifications.


Just down the street, to the north-east of the Chateau you’ll find the Ministry of Finance building.


The next two photos show details of the Ministry of Finance building.



Further to the north-east the Canadian flag waves above the domed Postal Building.


Slightly north of the Chateau’s courtyard stands this tourist information-center-war-museum building flying the blue and white, Quebec Provincial flag. Note the tour bus that brought us.


Perhaps the building just left of the tourist information center is the inspiration for the “Red Roof Inn?” The Auberge Du Tresor, seen behind the monument, bears the inscription “1640 Restaurant.”


As we sailed out of Quebec, into the wider portion of the Saint Lawrence River, we enjoyed the stretch of mountains to north-east.


Only a few miles out of Quebec City, along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence, look for the Montmorency waterfall. Taller than Niagara Falls, it marks the spot where General Montcalm defeated General Wolfe in an early encounter.


Additional information for this blog came from the Google satellite photos of Quebec City. Google names streets and allows the observer to get close enough to buildings to read plaques and titles. Google shares millions of Quebec City’s wonderful details. It’s worth a look.

Nation by Terry Pratchett


Nation by Terry Pratchett

My rating: A+ (Superlative!)

By way of introduction, let’s blame all of this on Julie Davis, the indefatigable contributor to the Catholic Writer’s Guild blog. Along the way, Julie described a Young Adult novel, Farmer in the Sky (1953) by Robert A. Heinlein that aroused my curiosity. Since then I’ve read other Heinlein books and began a discussion with the local librarian who just happens to love science fiction. She brought me to the dark corner, under the stairs where the sci-fi books, wrapped in brown paper, reside, carefully guarded by live snakes, spiders and the occasional gargoyle. Through her informed enthusiasm, she personally introduced me to the work of Terry Pratchett. I’m currently Pratchett-binging.

Pratchett’s Nation tightly weaves living “story” vines so every thought touch all the others. Maybe Nation is a romance novel? It’s certainly a love story and for sure a deeply spiritual adventure. It may not answer the universal spiritual questions, but powerfully asks them: Does God exist? How can God permit evil? What is God like? What is the purpose and efficacy of prayer?

Terry Pratchett’s Young Adult novel introduces numbers 139 and 140 in line of succession to the British throne. The drama intensifies as numbers 1-138 quickly meet their untimely deaths. Fortunately, 139 and 140 are relatively safe if you ignore the mutiny, tsunami, shipwreck, abandonment on a devastated island, cannibals and an upbringing that prevents 140 (Daphne) from doing anything practical, although she’s quite the student of 19th Century Science and sees it as the preferred alternative to religion. You might say she’s a proper nob lass with a ton of baggage, not the least of which was the earlier loss of her mother and newborn brother and the domination of herself and her father (139) by her paternal grandmother. Daphne’s propriety extends to her wearing both pantaloons and unmentionables beneath her grass skirt, and of course the cleanest blouse she could manage under the circumstances.

Mau, the Pacific Islander, like Daphne, loses his entire family and community while they await the completion of his coming of age mission. Trapped with neither a boy’s nor a man’s soul, Locaha, the god of death, worshiped by the head-hunting cannibals, chases after Mau. The ghosts of Mau’s Grandfathers haunt the incomplete and untrained Mau, urging him to restore spiritual order. He’s angry with his nagging ancestors and the divine power that allowed such destruction. Fate brings Mau, the clever survivor together with the “ghost girl” (Daphne). They soon save each other’s lives, find ways of communicating and deepening their mutual affection. Daphne is sensitive to the ghostly voices of Mau’s Grandmothers, who share a message totally different from that of Mau’s Grandfathers. The question arises: Can the successor to the British Crown find happiness with a “primitive” islander? In reality, Mau is no less a royal than Daphne. He is the Nation.

Mau and Daphne grow as other survivors arrive along with their problems. Mau finds milk for a starving infant on an island with none of the usual sources of milk, and lives to tell about it. Daphne delivers babies. Following directions in the wrecked ship’s medical manual she saws off a man’s shattered leg below the knee and dips the stump into a bucket of hot tar. Mau asks, “Didn’t that hurt?” Daphne shrugged, “Not if you lift the bucket by the handle.” Mercifully, Mrs. Gurgle, a balding, wrinkled, toothless elder crouching in a dark corner is well versed in herbal pharmacology and anesthesiology.

The thrilling climax features the wonders of pharmacological dark magic, the strategy of David versus Goliath, “honor among cannibals,” if not Europeans, the revelation of the primacy of the Nation and a diplomatic coup that allows the Nation to dodge assimilation while enjoying an affiliation with the British Empire. Daphne graciously accepts a compliment from a cannibal under-chief. He told her she is so bright that he’d love to eat her brain. Mau and Daphne face painful decisions that test their mutual love, growth, maturity and sense of duty.

Nation succeeds as a Young Adult novel while reaching out to the older audience. Young adults Mau and Daphne grow through confrontation with real-life problems. They maintain remarkable focus, honesty, generosity and most importantly, self-sacrifice for the good of the Nation. Members of every generation should stand as tall. The reader learns with them as Terry Pratchett weaves in references to history, literature, astronomy, geography, geology, anthropology and especially biology. The antics of a sea-captain’s iconoclastic parrot and such exotic species as the beer-drinking, upchucking pantaloon bird and the legendary tree octopus (not to be confused with the North American species (Octopus aborishoaxiensis) continue to amaze, chapter after chapter.