5 Books My English Teacher Almost Ruined

It’s a pretty common thing for me to be talking to someone about books and for me to say, “oh, I really hated that book,” and when they ask me why, I say that my teacher ruined it. Sometimes it wasn’t my teacher’s fault and the book just wasn’t my cup of tea, but there are times when I felt like, yeah, if I’d read that book on my own, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to throw it against a wall.

Disclaimer: I love English teachers, I promise, and I’ve had plenty of good ones. I’m not trying to throw any educators under the bus because they’re under appreciated, deserve the world, etc. But at the same time, anyone who’s been to any school anywhere knows that some of the teachers are just not good at their job. It sucks, but that’s the American education system for you.

So, here are 5 books my English teachers almost ruined:

1. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

I think every high schooler is forced to read Shakespeare, and, in my case, that meant performing scenes from the play in front of the entire class. There’s nothing like pretending to be a scary witch in front of fifteen teenagers who already thought I was a huge nerd to turn you against a book.

Luckily, for my final exam I had to write a character analysis on Macbeth, Banquo, or Lady Macbeth. I made one of the wisest decisions of my young life and chose to spend 2 hours of quality time with a certain badass woman, learning about how my body is not vessel. To my ninth grade English teacher: you failed!

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams

This is a book about rabbits, but also about tyranny, communism, and human (I’m sorry, animal) nature. It also contains some great fight scenes, if you’re willing to look past the fact that rabbits can’t organize mafias, and, even if they could, they probably wouldn’t be fighting a group of rabbit bros who are just looking for a place to practice democratic socialism.

Also, on a more practical note, I was in seventh grade and therefore LITERALLY twelve years old and could not possibly understand the complexities of this rabbit book and its political ramifications. And this is another example of a time that a teacher forced me to act out a scene from a book we were reading, except this time it was even worse than before because Macbeth was created to be acted out and Watership Down is, if I haven’t told you already, about rabbits. No twelve year old should be forced to crawl around on the classroom floor screaming about how everyone should believe that a bunny has a sixth sense.

But, I’d like to say, to my seventh grade English teacher: you failed! Standardized testing may have said my reading level was above average, but I was emotionally a child and I loved rabbits, and I especially loved when they had names like Blackberry, Bluebell, and Dandelion.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My teacher actively said “I do not like this book and I only teach it because the administration makes me.” We spent two months writing every single time a color was mentioned on the whiteboard. Did I learn a lot about tracking symbols? Yeah. Did I really need to know that the color green was mentioned on pretty much every page to understand that Gatsby was obsessed with money? No, I did not.

But I was blessed by another English teacher, who came in as a substitute one day and was like “hey, what if Jay Gatsby wasn’t white? Nobody ever tells you he is” and it was like the book exploded. Who knew if anything was true? I could go back on every page and question everything. I love questioning everything! So, to my English teacher during junior year: you were a great teacher for every other book, but for this one, you tried really hard to make me hate it but it didn’t work. You failed!

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This one is a rare case, because this wasn’t my teacher’s fault. My sixth grade English teacher was fabulous and understanding and a lovely person, but having this book on the curriculum was not the move.

If you haven’t read Flowers for Algernon, just know that it’s about a man with a very low IQ who gets surgery and becomes very, very smart. The consequence of this is that a 32 year old man is going through emotional adolescence. The book is heartwarming, and well written, and I consider it among the ranks of Books That Changed My Life. Of course, I can say that now. At eleven, not so much.

My teacher gave Flowers For Algernon to her classroom of sixth graders, just after we’d read The Outsiders, and I was like, cool! It’s gonna be another fun book about familial love and teenagers with hardships. And then it was, um, not like that. The main character, Charlie, talks about sex a lot, and I’m just going to paraphrase the interaction and say that I had a couple of really awkward questions for my teachers about why it was such a big deal that Charlie had sticky sheets.

Granted, Charlie and I both had about the same amount of experience with sex, which they maybe thought made it relatable, or something? That is, until he had sex with his teacher, and then with his neighbor, and I had yet to take sex ed of any kind. It was just all around poor timing. The saving grace is that I went back and reread it in high school, and realized how fabulous a book it really is. And that it’s not actually all about sex, which I had thought because before I read this book sex had been in exactly 0% of every other book I’d read, so to have it shoot up to 5% was a huge increase and really threw eleven-year-old me for a loop.

So, to my sixth grade English teacher, I say: you did your best.

5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Here it is: THE BIG ONE! The book that every kid reads in school and that every bad English teacher has done their best to ruin. This book is the champion of staying alive. Atticus Finch went to court for the affection of every 14-year-old in America and actually won this time.

I love Scout’s stupid ham costume. I love how the big scary guy is their neighbor, but everyone calls him “Boo.” Get a scarier name, Boo. Most of all, though, I love how inexplicably hot everyone find Atticus Finch. And then, at the end of the unit, when the teacher shows the movie and Gregory Peck comes onscreen… a pivotal moment for all of us.

It’s also a well written novel with a strong message and relatable characters, but I digress. This was middle school, and none of us cared about that. It came down to the fact that the book was fun, and easy to discuss in class, and practically impossible to ruin. So, to my eighth grade English teacher, I say: YOU FAILED!

For closure, here are some books that my English teachers actually did ruin:

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (the inspiration for this post)
  2. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (the minute my teacher picked the non-Leonardo DiCaprio movie to show us, it was all over)
  3. A good amount of Emily Dickinson poems
  4. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  5. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (I’m excusing the movie from this judgement, because Queen Latifah makes anything better)
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

And here are some books they did justice:

  1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  2. The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet by William Shakespeare (just because of Portia and Horatio, no one else matters)
  3. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and then, right after, The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  5. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One English teacher had us watch Apocalypse Now which was cool, because Martin Sheen was in it and I kept calling him President Bartlett. The teacher also did a really good job forcing us to analyze the movie, but then we had to read Heart of Darkness and that really put a damper on the whole endeavor.

So that’s it. Again, I’ll remind you that I loved many of my English teachers despite their ability to ruin books, and many of them did exactly the opposite of that. No hate to anyone who’s out there working hard to make ungrateful children read classic works of literature!!

It’s just nice to tell my teachers that they failed for a change. If you made it this far (against all odds) I’d love to hear what books your English teachers ruined for you. Or, on a nicer note, which books they tried really hard to ruin but you resisted! That makes for a good, resilient book, and I love that for us.

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.8

Summary:

Strap in, folks, this is a cute one! So sweet it’s borderline sickly. Please make the appropriate appointments with your dentists for cavity fillings, as you will be needing them.

So the first thing that happens is that Blue leaves Nino’s feeling like most people do when leaving their minimum wage job, because they don’t get paid enough and never get treated with the respect they deserve. Honestly if you’re not nice to people in the service industry what are you even doing? But that’s beside the point. Blue looks up at the stars and she feels a grand something that makes her life seem a little less futile, and then Steifvater blesses us with some beautiful space poetry:

One day, she would live some place where she could stand outside her house and see only stars, no streetlights, where she could feel as close as she ever got to sharing her mother’s gift. When she looked at the stars, something tugged at her, something that urged her to see more than stars, to make sense of the chaotic firmament, to pull an image from it.

Blue hears someone behind her and it’s Adam, who saw her unlocking her bike just as he was unlocking his. Blue catalogues all the things about Adam that make him less Raven boy and thus an exception to her firmly held belief that they’re all bastards: his Henrietta accent, the worn seam on his sweater, the fact that he owns a bike and not a car. He also calls her Miss, which had me melting. What kind of boy starts a conversation with “excuse me, um miss—hi”? A keeper, that’s who.

It turns out Adam came over to apologize for Gansey, and Blue decides she wants to flirt with him and does an okay job at it, for someone who’s never flirted before. Until, of course, her conscience ruins everything by adopting Maura’s voice and reminding her that she has the kiss of death and must remain forever chaste. But she resists just enough to leave Adam with a smile and a phone number and there is nothing else to do but rejoice!!!!

She asked, “Are you coming back to Nino’s?”

“Am I invited?”

She smiled in reply. It felt like a very dangerous thing, that smile, like something Maura wouldn’t be pleased with.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Adam bikes away. Blue freaks out. But before we get the inner monologue we deserve, stupid manager Donny comes up and shows Blue Gansey’s journal, which he left at the restaurant. He thinks it’s psychic-y, and even though Blue knows it’s not she takes it because she’s curious about President Cell Phone’s inner musings. As she peruses, it gets kind of obvious that she finds the journal kinda hot.

More than anything the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition.

Like I said. Steamy. Until Blue sees a shape drawn over and over again, one she recognizes from both Maura and Neeve’s absentminded doodles. This brings her to the conclusion that the journal couldn’t possibly belong to President Cell Phone, because he’s an asshole. She wants it to be Adam’s because, as discussed, she finds both Adam and the journal very attractive. Until the muderkiss rears its ugly head and she remembers that Adam isn’t Gansey, and she’s most likely screwed.

Thoughts and Feelings:

I know I’m probably too excited for this interaction between Adam and Blue because, duh, Blue and Gansey have this whole TRUE LOVE thing going on that can’t be beat. But I’m a sucker for free will and it’s okay for me to recognize some top-notch romance when I see it. And while I previously remarked on how cool I find the parallels between Gansey and Blue, it would be stupid of me to pretend they don’t exist between Adam and Blue as well.

Money is a huge issue in these books, and Blue and Adam come from the same amount (that is to say, not much). It stands to reason that they would find common ground in a town overpopulated with damaged rich boys, and it’s refreshing to see the two of them forced into the spotlight by the fact that none of those damaged rich boys are there to take it from them. It seems like Blue and Adam are always taking in details about other people and it’s refreshing to watch them scrutinize each other, if only because I know it’ll give me the most accurate picture.

This is just a nice moment between two characters who deserve a nice moment every once in a while. I’m gonna let them have it.

Best character moment:

“Talk,” he said. In his local accent, it was a long word, and it seemed less of a synonym for speak than it was for confess.

Best turn of phrase:

It was all Henrietta sunset: hot front-porch swings and cold iced-tea glasses, cicadas louder than your thoughts.

Action: not a lot happened by my heart is still pounding. High intensity flirting and the journey of the journal are two nice hefty plot points done right. 9/10

Magic: Blue sees magic in the stars, in Adam’s quiet charms, and in Gansey’s journal (which is so special she wishes it belonged to someone else). It’s like a variety pack of magical moments and I love that for me. 13/10

Comic relief: :-* 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.7

Summary:

The pizzas are gone. The boys are discussing next moves for the ley line search when Ronan is too much of a bother and Gansey sends him to the parking lot for a time out (they make him take Noah because nobody trusts Ronan alone outside). Adam is looking for Blue, but of course Gansey doesn’t know her name and calls her either evil not-a-prostitute waitress or devil waitress, depending on his mood. He also spends about two pages alternating between talking about how mad he is that he offended Blue and trying to think of ways to talk to Adam about working less without offending him. It’s a very narrow line that he clearly has trouble walking.

Speaking of narrow lines, Adam thinks the psychics could know something about the position of the ley line, since they have no idea where it is, and drawing pencil on a map can only get you so close. He also comes up with the brilliant idea that they should amplify the ley line’s energy so it’s easier to read. Gansey is excited about the idea, until Noah returns with the news that Declan is outside, and Ronan is probably about to punch him in the face.

From the looks of it, it was the opening act. In the sickly green light of a buzzing streetlamp, Ronan had an unbreakable stance and an expression hard as granite. There was no wavering in the line of the blow; he had accepted the consequences of wherever his fist landed long before he began the punch.

Ronan punches Declan. Then Declan punches Ronan. Then they punch each other for a while, until Ronan throws Declan into his car and Declan gets mad because it’s a very expensive car. We then learn why Declan is rich enough to have this very expensive car:

Niall Lynch was handsome and charismatic and rich and mysterious, and one day, he was dragged from his charcoal-gray BMW and beaten to death with a tire iron. It was a Wednesday. On Thursday, his son Ronan found his body in the driveway. On Friday, their mother stopped speaking and never spoke again. On Saturday, the Lynch brothers found that their father’s will left them rich and homeless.

The short version is that Ronan’s father was murdered, and his will kicked his sons out of the house and gave Declan power over the family fortune. This left Ronan with nothing but money and Gansey. Ronan then stole his father’s car and began to hate his brother, which is why they’re still punching each other in the Nino’s parking lot in front of Ashley (and everyone else who went to get some pizza).

Gansey intervenes and the description of violence that comes next is well written but kind of gross and I’d rather not summarize it. It ends up with Gansey getting punched in the face, Declan’s face smashing into his car door, and Ronan on the ground wanting nothing more than to commit a murder.

With a jerk of his chin, Declan spit blood at the pavement. His lip was bleeding, but his teeth were still good. “Fine. He’s your dog, Gansey. You leash him. Keep him from getting kicked out of Aglionby. I wash my hands of him.”

Declan insults his brother for a little while longer until Gansey tells him to leave. Meanwhile, Ashley is watching the whole thing from the window of the Volvo, and Gansey notices that she doesn’t look like an idiot at all. I’m proud of you, Ashely, you show them!

The argument ramps up a notch when Gansey mentions Niall (“you are not Niall Lynch, and you won’t ever be. And you’d get ahead a lot faster if you stopped trying”). These seem to be the magic words for the brothers, who stop trying to kick each other’s asses and use their words, instead. We get the most insight through Gansey’s eyes, though:

Ronan’s hands hung open at his sides. Sometimes, after Adam had been hit, there was something remote and absent in his eyes, like his body belonged to someone else. When Ronan was hit, it was the opposite: he became so urgently present that is was as if he’d been sleeping before.

We learn that if Ronan doesn’t keep his grades up, he can’t live at Monmouth Manufacturing anymore. Gansey reminds Ronan of a promise he’d made. When Ronan replies “I know what I did,” it doesn’t sound like he intends to keep it, but I have faith. If anyone can pass a class out of pure spite, it’s Ronan Lynch.

Cut to Adam, standing in a dark corner of the parking lot bouncing a rubber SpongeBob ball. He spent the fight convincing the manager not to call the cops, because he is practical and we would be nothing without him. While they wait for Noah to finish tipping the waitress, they discuss Ashley and her prior knowledge of Welsh kings. Adam admits that he feels watched, and Gansey’s response is simple: why would somebody be watching unless they were looking in the right places?

Thoughts and Feelings:

This chapter will devastate you, if you let it. To her credit, Stiefvater gives us a couple of pages at the beginning to enjoy ourselves. She has this incredible ability to make her descriptions hilarious in the simple truths they tell. For example:

Gansey and Adam stood in line while a woman argued about mushroom topping with the cashier.

That’s funny, when you catch it as a standalone line in the middle of a serious narrative. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

Then we get some Adam insight, which is always hard. He looks tired and he won’t accept help—this is fine now, because it’s the first time it’s come up, but wait until I complain about it later, after the 59th fight Adam gets into with Gansey (because of good intentions from all parties, but still frustrating). But this is when the mood in the chapter starts to come down, until it crashes when Declan fights Ronan in the Nino’s parking lot.

I have to say this is one of the better fights I’ve ever read in young adult literature. It’s physically charged, it carries emotional weight and consequence, and at one point Ronan has his fingers hooked in Declan’s mouth—that is to say, it’s scrappy and realistic. But those emotional consequences come back to bite you when you realize everything Ronan’s gone through that made him this way, and he’s still going through it every day at Aglionby.

And, after all that, we don’t get any closure! We just get Ronan in the car, waiting to go to Monmouth because he can’t go home. It’s sad and I’m sad and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Best character moment:

“I wish,” snarled Ronan. His entire body was rigid underneath Gansey’s hand. He wore his hatred like a cruel second skin.

Best turn of phrase:

Scrambling around the side of the building, he skidded into the parking lot just in time to see Ronan throw a punch. The swing was infinite.

Action: The minute someone got punched in the face meant this chapter got full marks, and then when Ronan uttered the words “I will never forgive you” the score went through the roof. 16/10

Magic: Nothing magical except the particularly cool tricks Adam performs with his bouncy ball, which Gansey seems to enjoy immensely. 4/10

Comic relief: Well, at least the beginning of the chapter was fun. Sort of. 5/10

5 Reasons to Read: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Last year, my dad talked to me nonstop about this book called Dreadnought. He did absolutely everything to try to get me to read it, and I resisted out of principle, because I’m not a “superhero novel kind of girl.” I was wrong. What I am is an idiot, because the Nemesis series is freaking fantastic. I figured that out because my dad is an evil genius and sent me a copy while I was at school pretending to study for finals, and so when it came in the mail I stopped pretending and devoured it in two hours.

Here are five reasons you should go do the same thing. You won’t regret it.

1. Trans girl superhero….. enough said.

2. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has saturated the market so completely that I thought it was my only option for Powered People Content™. It’s not! Dreadnought should be required reading for every teenager who’s seen the most recent Avengers movie, as a model of what superhero media could be, if white men didn’t run Hollywood.

The nail polish is a nice deep red. I’ve been running mostly with blue recently, but I think it’s time for a change. The cotton balls soak up remover and the blue polish rubs off my toes a bit at a time. It feels right. It feels necessary. Painting my toes is the one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year: 

I’m not supposed to be a boy.

Accurate! Representation! Matters! And! You! Can! Find! It! In! Dreadnought!

3. Beyond creating a world in which superheroes aren’t wrapped in vestiges of 20th century culture, Daniels also provides for government regulation of superheroes in a way that’s well thought out and easy to understand. There’s cool lingo, like calling superheroes “capes” and differentiating between whitecapes and blackcapes, with morally ambiguous graycapes in between. There’s superhero teams like the Legion, who give out full and provisional memberships depending on age and ability. There’s some people who call their powers “special abilities” and use them to be flying couriers or invulnerable firefighters.

Hearing about the practical and boring stuff is an indulgent surprise, if you love superheroes. It’s like getting an order of fries and finding that one accidental but delicious onion ring that makes the whole meal that much sweeter.

4. Did I mention the whole trans girl superhero thing? Well, there’s that, and there’s also the fact that the narrative clearly acknowledges that anyone who doesn’t give Danny the respect she deserves is an asshole and should be treated as such.

“Some of them seem uncomfortable about me being transgender.” It comes out almost as a mutter, and I feel like such a tool. Almost as if by not speaking up strongly I’m betraying myself, but by saying anything at all I’m betraying them. 

“There. You see?” Calamity nods sharply. “Whitecapes are happy to draw neat little lines that make neat little boxes and act like they’re Justice with her scales, but the moment someone doesn’t fit into their cute little grid, suddenly they don’t quite care about what’s fair or not, do they?”

“Some of them really stood up for me.” 

“Did they kick the other ones off the team?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then they’re aiding and abetting your enemy.” 

Who cares if you save the world? That isn’t enough, not if you continually and maliciously use the wrong pronouns to address someone. It doesn’t matter how often you claim you’re a feminist– a good hero can still be a bad person!

5. There’s a fantastic sequel that you can dive right into when you’re done, so you don’t have to deal with that this-book-was-so-good-and-I’m-sad-it’s-over feeling that tends to take over upon finishing a story like Dreadnought.

Plus, the next book gives you queer love story mixed with a world ending threat and teenage drama. Basically everything you could ever ask for, and it’s all right there in one novel.

What are you waiting for?

Books that Changed My Life: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The first time I saw Fangirl, it was on the new arrivals shelf in the young adult section of my local library. That’s where I found a lot of the books I read in middle and high school, so it shouldn’t have been a special moment, but it was.

Here was this book, with a girl and her laptop on the cover, lounging on the word that made me stop in my tracks: FANGIRL.

I was a teenager and I wrote fanfiction, but it was my little secret. I was convinced nobody would understand it, or that I was going to be found out as a freak for posting it on the internet for strangers to read. If I was doing so much as reading Harry Potter fanfiction on Archive of Our Own and someone opened the door to my room I would slam the laptop shut.

But this book had it on the cover. This book, which is about an awkward, introverted girl who writes gay fanfiction and calls herself crazy and means it. I picked it up, because I was curious, and then I wasn’t the only person I knew who wrote fanfiction. Cath was in my corner.

Now, the cover wasn’t the only reason this book Changed My Life. If it was poorly written, or if the plot was boring or unrealistic, it would have just been a book about fanfiction that I was embarrassed to read. I would have felt exposed, rather than known. I am so happy that’s not the case.

Cath is not perfect. She’s not girl-next-door shy. She’s not awkward-until-I-take-off-my-glasses anxious. Cather Avery is nervous and introverted and that never changes. What changes is that she learns to share that with other people, and she does that without giving up the fandom. She does it without ever making the readers who identify with her feel shamed.

We even got, in Wren, a girl who is passionate about fanfiction, but who is also extroverted and brings home boyfriends (not that that’s a measure of success, but it was nice, seeing the type of girl I always envied love a book as much as I did). And her father, who knew they loved fanfiction and understood it.

But back to my main point: this book did a beautiful and magical thing by taking a character who resembles a real person, and letting her grow into herself without losing herself.

And as I’ve read the book, and then reread it over the years, I’ve been doing some growing of my own. I went to college and I wasn’t totally happy. I felt alone, and scared. I (and everyone else who’s ever sat down to write something) felt like I’ll never be able to create something as good as what I’ve read. But I had Cath, who felt all of this, and didn’t need curing. She just needed encouragement, and time.

I didn’t think people wrote stories about introverts, especially not in fandom. If they did, I didn’t think they’d sell. And Fangirl did both of those things, because it was a book for people who loved books. The kind of people who knew how to lose themselves in a story, who knew what it was like to love a character so much they just have to make friends halfway around the world so they can talk about it.

We finally got to read about ourselves.