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.

 

Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Missing Novice, by Karen Kelly Boyce

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A caricature can reveal more truth than a photograph. The Sisters of the Last Straw, reminiscent of the antics of Don Camillo in the stories by Giovannino Guareschi (1908-68), were in fact human. Thank God. Each had her own “fault,” be it a temper, an obsession or an addiction. Each nun had received her walking papers from at least one other congregation. Once they banded together, they formed an abrasive but loving community, a spiritual sandpaper rubbing their souls smooth and perfect.

The fragile tranquility of the community shattered over the presence of a dog, its puddles and plies, and its need for a home, anyplace but in the convent. The difficulties expand beyond the sacred enclosure to the neighborhood and the downtown area leading to the subsequent loss of Novice Kathy. The bumbling sorority’s attempts at untying the knots in the story-line, only tangled them further as the dog-sitting sisters prayed for the safety of their youngest member.

Although Sisters of the Last Straw fits into the category of juvenile fiction, for 6-12 year old readers, the chapters could serve as case histories used in community development workshops and retreats for religious congregations. Spiritual growth often depends on the establishment and growth of a peaceful living environment. Even saints sometimes wanted to brain a confrere. These good sisters, with all their faults were easy to love. They served as examples of humility. One of their greatest virtues was their ability to laugh at themselves, forgive and move on to the next disaster.

I treasure this gift to all of us from Karen Kelly Boyce and look forward to the next misadventure of the Sisters of the Last Straw.

Boyce, Karen Kelly. Sisters of the Last Straw: The Case of the Missing Novice. New Egypt, NJ: KFR Communications, LLC. 2013. www.chestertonpress.com

A day in the life of a hammer.

Raised beds Fall 2013 006Here he comes, will he find me under all this junk? I had a restful night, but I knew it had to end. Pound, pound, pound, all day yesterday, today and tomorrow. I hope he knows what he’s doing. My claw end is all chaffed from nail-pulling. I hate the taste of those galvanized ten-inch nails. All right, he found me and I’m back in the tool box. Those other tools must have missed me, except of course for that aluminum level. Aluminum must be the poorest excuse for a metal that I know. Those tools are so light and shiny. They don’t rust, but boy do they get scratched and bent. I hate to tell the boss, but that level isn’t on the level. It’s always throwing off the measurements by a degree. Eventually that adds up.

Here’s the first nail of the day. Great, it’s steel-tough, like me. I can drive it with two whacks. There it goes, buried in the wood for years. Some archeologist will find it centuries from now and wonder, “How did they used to insert these fasteners into the wood fibers?” By then they’ll be able to get the nails to talk. “I was pounded by a high carbon steel professional grade carpenters hammer, made in the USA.” I wonder, will there still be a USA?

Groundhog mayday

winter

The groundhog stared at the radio as the reporter excitedly updated the news, “The posse has him cornered in a line shack west of Punxsutawney. They expect to call in a drone strike any minute now. We’ve had enough of this winter, that over-sized rat has gone too far this time, why couldn’t he have just stayed in his hole and let the spring come early?”

Phil sniveled, “They’re going to shoot the messenger because they can accept the fact that climate change is the result of their own stupid excesses. Sure, they burn fossil fuels and cut down the trees, what do they expect? They want a scapegoat, so they picked me to pin their sins on.”

He lifted a trap door and dropped through the floor to his tunnel without bothering to turn off the radio. He was a quarter mile behind the encircling humans, watching when the first drone strike incinerated the line shack. “Go ahead, dummies,” he chuckled, “add some more carbon dioxide to the ozone layer. It will come back to haunt you. Meanwhile, I’ll find another abandoned house to keep me warm for the rest of this interminable winter.”

The Wicked Witch and the Windmill Eating Troll

The miller’s wagon packed with tools, canvas, gears, shafts and heavy grinding stones creaked into the square before the Inn. After a tankard of Spencer Ale and a quorum of stuffed quahogs he walked about.  By day’s end, he knew in his heart that Skyblue offered the best hill upon which to set the gears and the sails that would convert the wind into blessings.The Skyblue folks delighted in the prospect although the grumblers of the Nimby Clan griped and muttered. Nevertheless Skyblue agreed to let the miller build and hoped that soon the whispering, dancing mill-sails would catch the breezes, turn its shaft, gears and stones to grind grain to the finest flour. The town glowed with festive expectation.

In the far off nether reaches, the Wicked Witch heard the Nimby Clan’s grumbling and the people’s glee. She pointed her twisted, green finger at her murky mirror where she viewed the miller’s plans. “This would never do,” she cackled, “for if wind is used the Skyblue folks would no longer buy the bones, blood and breath of long dead dragons to burn in their machines.” She could no longer suck the wealth from the town’s folk, and foul their air and water.

She dispatched her flying monkeys, Nazgûls and her fiendish ambassador, the troll called Nocebo to infect the brains of the humans so they would fear the windmills and talk nonsense against them.  She took special delight in the Nimby Clan, who of course didn’t mind that the Wicked Witch turned tap water to flame, killed lakes, destroyed agriculture and increased earthquakes a hundred fold as she extracted sludge and slime from dragon’s graves, as long as it happened not in my back yard, at least not yet.

Nocebo gathered toads, toadstools and snakes for use in Nocebo cookies, but the children proved too well informed. They actually liked the windmill and windmill cookies, but dreaded the evil ambassador and Nocebo cookies. Since the children proved too wise, Nocebo turned to the Nimby Clan with pitchers of Nocebo Sangria. In no time, the very mention of the word “windmill” evoked symptoms of stress in the Nimby Clan. Their hands twitched with the urge to write dozens of complaint letters every day, even though the windmill had yet to operate.

With increasing boldness, the now enchanted Nimby Clan predicted that the windmill’s sails would snare their beloved vampire bats, banshees and pterodactyls. Nevertheless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Vampire Bats, Banshees and Pterodactyls logged no injuries to these endangering species gliding above Skyblue.

The Nimbys claimed that since this windmill was larger than others, it would make more noise. Instead it made less noise than its smaller neighbors. They preached that real estate prices would drop in their neighborhood, but new houses have started as did bidding wars on existing homes.

The Nimbys claimed that in winter the sails would fling daggers of ice, far and wide, slicing town’s folks to the quick. This too has never happened. They said the turning sails would cast spells upon the carters and that their oxen would run amuck. No vehicular accidents ever happened because of the windmill. They spread fear that the sounds of grinding stones would quake the earth and summon demons from the depths to enchant the students at their lessons. The kids still love he windmills and windmill cookies and have excelled in school. The other schools want their own windmills.

Nocebo urged the windmill workers to quit their jobs or their teeth and eyes would fall out and they would soon go mad, but none of these evils befell them. Nocebo hired the scribes, Ditto and Rehash to write hundreds of letter against the windmill. “Look.” Nocebo said, “The households have suffered hundreds of health disorders caused by the windmill, we must tear it down.”

But the miller asked, “Where are the medical records that demonstrate injury?”

Nocebo screamed, “You can’t invade the privacy of these complainants or even know their true number, pre-existing conditions or vested interests.”

The miller and his many workers and thousands of townspeople who benefited from the windmill rose against Nocebo’s fear tactics, while those who had drunk Nocebo Sangria marched like zombies toward the windmill, chanting and grinding their teeth.

Then out of the night rode the heroine Jeannine the Brave, waving the banner of sanity. She sprayed the poisoned Nimby throng with the antidote to Nocebo Sangria. The Nimbys reeled in confusion and finally came to their senses.

They slowly admitted, “We are not victims of the windmill, but of the Wicked Witch and her ambassador Nocebo.  Hurray for Jeannine the Brave! Let her look over our health for many years to come.”