Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday's Fare: Review of Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Today I'm going to review a book much lighter in vein than recent ones. It is a book to read for fun, to relieve a hard day at work or serious writing, or even just because you don't have anything else on hand to read. Whatever your reason, it is, first, a book you will laugh about, and second, a book you SHOULD read if you're writing anything for girls aged 9 to 14.

Millicent Min is an eleven year old genius. She began kindergarten at the age of three and now, at eleven, she is in the eleventh grade in high school, is taking a college advanced poetry class, and is looking forward to being a full time college student before she enters her teens. She has appeared on television seven times, and has been the subject of six articles on highly gifted children.

The first sentence of this book---"I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things"---perfectly sets the stage and captures the unique voice of this charming and amusing story.

Millicent must spend the summer between awaiting the start of her last year in high school. Unfortunately,  she has the social and athletic skills of a gnat, and consequently, has no friends her own age, or even of high school age. She has no trouble in espousing her knowledge about any and all subjects, so anyone who might be considered her peer tends to shy away from her. She spends her spare time with her grandmother, who often gives advice she has gained from watching her favorite TV show, Kung Fu.

Her parents decide she must have a more well-rounded life, so they sign her up for summer volleyball at the high school, something that Millicent says "It reminds me of kindergarten--something I tried but was just not suited for." Even
 more horrendous, her mother informs her that she is to tutor Stanford Wong, son of a family friend. Millicent would rather go back to elementary school than take on the task of trying to teach this annoying and totally obnoxious boy anything, but she has no choice.

Her first day of volleyball practice turns out as badly as she expected it to, but she does meet Emily Ebers, a new girl in town her own age, and who hates volleyball as much as Millicent. They become friends, but Millicent goes to great lengths to hide her mental capabilities, fearing that like everyone else, if Emily finds out Millicent is a genius, she will dump her. Needless to say, this deception leads to comic disaster, especially when Emily  runs into Millicent and Stanford at the library, and Stanford immediately tells Emily HE is the one tutoring Millicent. There is more than one hilarious complication resulting from the Emily-Millicent-Stanford trio.

To be expected, Emily accidentally finds out about Millicent's IQ, and true to form, she dumps her. However, this is not because Millicent is a genius, as she believes, but because Emily is hurt that Millicent didn't think their friendship was strong enough for her to tell Emily the truth. Now Millicent is faced with a problem she can't solve as easily as she does any academic test question. How can she earn back Emily's trust and friendship?

There are several colorful characters in Millicent's life, including her down-to-earth mother, her very laid-back father, and of course, her often out-in-left-field grandmother. Her interactions with her family, with Emily and Stanford, and her journey to the discovery that true friendship, trust, and the acceptance of herself and others is something not measured by IQ but by one's inner spirit make for an engaging and heartfelt story. It deserves an A+ by any grading system, and a place of honor on your bookshelf.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday's Thoughts: The Power of Protest

Today I'm going a little off the subject of writing to talk about something that is really important to me. That is the Power of Protest. The last couple of weeks, the media has indulged itself in the protests that have FINALLY come over the corruption and greed that has manifested and ingrained itself in Wall Street, and the fact that 2% of the population in the United States holds the wealth of this country in their money-grubbing hands.

For the last couple of years, I have ranted and raved ( just ask my husband, he'll tell you!) about the sad complaisance of the American people who are allowing this country to be driven into the ground by incompetent governing...specifically the last administration. I have asked over and over, rhetorically, of course, WHY people, especially the young people, can't get up off their rears, stop watching the boob tube, stop playing video games and texting, and DO SOMETHING! Don't they realize the POWER OF PROTEST? Apparently not.

So let's go back to the early 1960s for a moment. Many of you who read my blog weren't even born then, but that's okay... maybe you need an education into what protesting can do. The 1960s Protests were NOT all about the VietNam War... those came later in the '60s and the early '70s. The early 60s protests were about some of the most important elements in American society which were still frozen in the 19th Century.

Those elements were about RIGHTS. They began with Student Rights to Free Speech.  This concerned the right of students belonging to different political groups to have their meetings on campus, and to speak freely in newsletters and on the open Commons grounds about their beliefs. They won.

Then there Women's Rights. They, too, began with the rights of women on college campuses to cohabitate with their boyfriends. It seems that most of the college Deans thought it was their responsibility to determine the sexual activity of women, but men could do as they pleased. After protest signs, marches, newsletters, etc., women were given the same rights on campuses around the country as men.  But it didn't stop at the college. Protests began all over the country about women's rights in the work place,  equal pay for equal work, the home, in schools as teachers, and everywhere else that women played a role.  They won, too.

Protest marches began on Washington, DC, protesting for Civil Rights. Do you remember the four African Americans who went into a restaurant only for "white people" and staged a sit-down? Do you remember a woman by the name of Rosa Parks? Do you remember the first African American students allowed to enter an all-white school, and who had to do so under the protection of the National Guard? Perhaps not, but all of these incidents came about because of the POWER OF PROTEST, and led to the greater Civil Rights of all minority people in the US.

Protest songs became the hit version of the "Hot List" today. Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, a song of protest against the VietNam War; Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, about Civil Rights for African Americans; Pete Seegar's Turn! Turn! Turn!, whose lyrics were taken from passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible; and his most iconic song, and one of the most powerful songs ever written, We Shall Overcome. And we can't forget the songs of Jimi Hendrix and Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and many others.

Any time any one of their many songs is sung, it invokes memories of the many hundreds, and often thousands, of men and women who stood together, holding hands, and facing the barrage of police dogs, tear gas,  and fire hoses in order to hold true to their beliefs about the wrongs of this society, and in the Power of Protest.

Protest marches, signs, songs, meetings, all came together in the 1960s and '70s to convince the American government that the time for change had come, and it was NOW.  Not in six months or a year, not when the next administration took office, it was NOW. The POWER OF PROTEST took effect, and change began...slowly, to be sure, but it began and it began at once.

Are you satisfied with the condition of our country today? Are you at all concerned about the fact that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy; that our schools are letting teachers by the hundreds go because of state budget cuts... what is this going to do to teachers trying to educate 40 and 50 students in one class, when it was difficult enough with 30? There are too many things wrong with our society today to even think of listing them, but you know them as well as I do. But one of the main things to be concerned about is the children of today: those who are homeless, who can't go to school because the district requires a permanent residence address, who are starving because their parents have no jobs and no money... starving in a country that was once the richest in the world. Wall Street and the millionaires have become the monsters of our society. These are only a few of the societal ills which infect all of us.

So where have the protesters gone? Where are the signs, the marches, the letters and newsletters of protest? Where are the PROTEST SONGS? I'm not young enough to be involved in this any more ( I once was, however), but if you will do your research, you will see that the power of protest is the only thing that is going to turn this country around. It has worked in the past, it WILL work in the present. The Power of Protest is still as viable and influential today as it was fifty-some years ago, but it has to be applied.

To bring this rant back to writing, think about what it would do for all of us if the economy blossomed again. More publishing houses would get back on their feet; more editors would be hired; more agents would have more money to hire assistants and first readers;  and WE could sell more of our work, and get paid better money.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.