Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Give a Boy a Gun - Todd Strasser

Title: Give a Boy a Gun
Author: Todd Strasser
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR (Paperback), 2012 (originally published in 2000)
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: December 10, 2018
Finished: December 11, 2018

From the back cover:

For as long as they can remember, Brendan and Gary have been mercilessly teased and harassed by the jocks who rule Middletown High. But not anymore. Stealing a small arsenal of guns from a neighbour, they take their classmates hostage at a school dance. In the panic of this desperate situation, it soon becomes clear that only one thing matters to Brendan and Gary: revenge.

I hadn't known that this book was actually published shortly after the Columbine shooting while I was still in high school. I think it would've been beneficial for me to have read it back then to help me make sense of things at the time.

As a teacher, every time we practice lock down drills I always explain to my classes about Columbine (it happened before any of them were ever born), and how that is the reason we now do these drills. Kids today are unfortunately so used to hearing about shootings, they're often surprised when I tell them that it wasn't long ago that they were relatively rare, and that being a teenager when Columbine occurred was a defining moment for my generation.

You can tell that this book is heavily influenced by Columbine: it takes place around the same time, the high school and town's name is very close to the name of the Colorado town where the shooting occurred, and the characters in the book even reference the Columbine shooters by name.

I appreciate that the author delves into multiple perspectives on the same incident by including statements from parents, teachers, classmates, counsellors, neighbours, etc. You see that kids can indeed fall through the cracks: there are details missed by one party that another picks up on, but there's no recourse or system to keep track of things like this and it goes by the wayside. It definitely strikes a chord with me as a teacher when we hit a wall with something related to a kid and can't help beyond a certain point because we've done all we're legally allowed to do.

The only part of this novel that I think hasn't aged well is the technology aspect. When this book was first published in 2000, smartphones didn't exist. We had cellphones back then, but they were basic Nokia-type bricks, not mini-computers that you could text message, record video, take photos, and search the internet. The widespread use of smartphones has definitely changed the landscape of today,  especially the invention of social media, and this novel's absence of it really does reinforce how things have changed in the past 10-15 years.

This is a heavy story, but an important one. There are other books about school shootings that are more reflective of recent years, but I'd argue that this one is still important because it's indicative of the time in which it occurred.

Thoughts on the cover:
Seemingly benign until you notice the red dots on the figures.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Fed Up - Gemma Hartley

Title: Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward
Author: Gemma Hartley
Publisher: HarperOne, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 252 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction, Parenting
Started: December 3, 2018
Finished: December 10, 2018

From Gemma Hartley, the journalist who ignited a national conversation on emotional labour, comes Fed Up, a bold dive into the unpaid, invisible work women have shouldered for too long - and an impassioned vision for creating a better future for us all.

Day in, day out, women anticipate and manage the needs of others. In relationships, we initiate the hard conversations. At home, we shoulder the mental load required to keep our households running. At work, we moderate our tone, explaining patiently and speaking softly. In the world, we step gingerly to keep ourselves safe. We do this largely invisible, draining work whether we want to or not - and we never clock out. No wonder women everywhere are overtaxed, exhausted, and simply fed up.

In her ultra-viral article "Women Aren't Nags - We're Just Fed Up," shared by millions of readers, Gemma Hartley gave much-needed voice to the frustration and anger experienced by countless women. Now, in Fed Up, Hartley expands outward from the everyday frustrations of performing thankless emotional labour to illuminate how the expectation to do this work in all arenas - private and public - fuels gender inequality, limits our opportunities, steals out time, and adversely affects the quality of our lives.

More than just name the problem, though, Hartley teases apart the cultural messaging that had led us here and asks how we can shift the load. Rejecting easy solutions that don't ultimately move the needle, Hartley offers a nuanced insightful guide to striking true balance, for true partnership in every aspect of our lives. Reframing emotional labour not as a problem to be overcome, but as a genderless virtue men and women can all learn to channel in our quest to make a better, more egalitarian world, Fed Up is surprising, intelligent, and empathetic essential reading for every woman who has had enough with feeling fed up.

I remember when this author's aforementioned viral article released. I eagerly shared it, amazed that there was actually a name for this nagging frustration I experienced as a woman, something that every woman I know has experienced but we often pass it off as "just the way things are."

I remember asking my mom as a teenager why we (the women in the family) always had the job of zipping around the kitchen fetching items for guests at our home on holidays (normally thought of as being good hosts) while my father wasn't expected to do the same. I can't even remember the exact answer she gave me, but I know it didn't satisfy my teenaged self. Now, my father has improved over the years, but there are still so many aspects of emotional labour that my mother is expected to perform on behalf of both of them (especially in our Italian family), and that I am expected to perform as mother to my child that isn't expected of her father.

Emotional labour as a term is confusing to those that haven't heard it before, but all I have to do is describe the ever-present, "Why am I the only person in this house who notices the toilet paper roll/garbage/random bag needs to be changed/taken out/brought upstairs?!" scenario for women to nod their heads in instant understanding. I did this, in fact, in my workroom with my colleagues the other day when they asked about the book I was reading. This led to an entire conversation about emotional labour, which we as a room of female educators (as well as wives and mothers) are intimately familiar.

The author does a great job of describing emotional labour to her readers, with anecdotes that will have many women nodding their heads in sympathy. She also has chapters entailing how we got to this current state (not-so sarcastic hint: patriarchy and misogyny) and how to better achieve balance between the sexes and emotional labour at home and in the workforce. It's true that some men, like many single fathers, do the bulk of or all of the emotional labour in their families because they've been forced to through circumstance; but in order for change to occur for the majority of men, it's the expectation of men not just "helping" but actually "sharing" the work of emotional labour that will help fuel the change in people's relationships.

This is a must-read (as well as the article linked above), if for nothing else than having a wonderfully cathartic experience. In my case, though, it was a bit rage-inducing when I empathized with nearly all the examples put forth in this book to the point where I wanted to chuck the book against the wall....but it's fine, really, it's fine, I'm fine, totally fine.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's very utilitarian, but it gets the job done.