Terrifying and Poignant, 'Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock'

Matthew Quick is a talented and prolific author, having written The Silver Linings Playbook (2008), Sorta Like a Rock Star (2010), Boy21 (2012) and now Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. His new young adult novel will terrify many because the narrator, Leonard Peacock, takes a gun to school and plans to kill his former best friend and himself.

Leonard is a seriously disturbed young man. His father, a former rock star, has disappeared. His mother, a narcissistic fashionista, is in New York City. Leonard stalks adults to determine if they are happy; most do not appear so. He hangs out with his sick, elderly neighbor, who watches Humphrey Bogart films. In school, Mr. Silverman, who teaches Leonard's Holocaust class, urges him to write "Letters from the Future," to connect with imaginary future soulmates, as a strategy to find happiness in high school.

The dark action unfolds on Leonard's 18th birthday, which no one remembers. Carefully, Leonard moves toward executing his murder-suicide plan. Although it is hair-raising to read the thoughts of a crazy kid concealing a gun, readers are allowed to hope that Leonard's plan will somehow fail. I found the novel poignant and thought provoking. The New York Times review is
here.

Call the Midwife Season 1 & 2

The winds are blowing colder, so as you're tucking in for winter and looking for new entertainment, take a look at the spectacular and riveting BBC/PBS production, Call the Widwife. The series, set in east London in the 1950s, is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. Catch up with Seasons 1 & 2 this winter and you will be prepared for Season 3 when it airs on PBS in spring 2014.

The story follows new midwife Jenny Lee and the work of the midwives and the Sisters of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that is part of an Anglican religious order. The women deal with the medical problems in the impoverished Poplar district of East London. Each episode includes the fascinating, sad, tragic, shocking, gritty and heartwarming stories of the pregnancies, births and challenges of the new mothers and their caretakers. As the series progresses, the friendships and relationships that develop between the midwives and the nuns pulls the viewer in as much as the complex stories of their patients. From Jenny’s culture shock upon arrival to London’s East End to shy, insecure Chummy and the glamorous Trixie, the midwives develop a closeness with the complex Sisters of Nonnatus House.

Amazon Teen Bestseller: I Am Malala

Check out I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which currently is #7 (hardcover) and #12 (Kindle edition) on Amazon's list of Best Sellers in Teen & Young Adult Books. The book is by Malala Yousafzai with help from Christina Lamb. From Amazon: "When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive . . . "

Film & Discussion: Where Soldiers Come From

Tuesday October 22, 2013: 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for adults and teens (grade 9 and up).

Winner of a 2011 Emmy and the Independent Spirit Award, "Where Soldiers Come From" follows the lives of northern Michigan best friends, Dominic and Cole, and other recent high school graduates as they join the National Guard and are eventually sent to Afghanistan.

The young men quickly realize their carefree days are over as they spend their time sweeping for roadside bombs. Repeated bombs blowing up around their convoys lead to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) symptoms. They have all become increasingly disillusioned about their mission.

The challenges really begin to surface when they return to their families and communities in Michigan. "Where Soldiers Come From" looks beyond the guns and policies of an ongoing war to tell a human story about family, friendship, and community and how they all change when people go off to fight.

Film director Heather Courtney will lead the discussion following the film.

This event is cosponsored by the University of Michigan Community Scholars' Program.

Amazon Teen Bestsellers: The Mortal Instruments

Slots 5 through 9 on the current list of Amazon teen bestsellers are books from the The Mortal Instruments series. Not a bad showing for author Cassandra Clare. The popularity of her series may be fueled by the August release of the film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. The book City of Bones, which sounds exotic and exciting, is described on Amazon: "When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died . . ."

The Boy Who Could Fly

In 1986, the film The Boy Who Could Fly came out to decent reviews, although it didn’t make much of a splash. But over the years, it has become one of those movies that people remember and want to see again.

Milly and her family move next door to Eric after the recent, tragic suicide of her father. She quickly notices something unusual next door, from something flying by her window to Eric spending lots of time on the roof. Milly becomes intrigued and eventually befriends Eric, who is autistic and lives with his alcoholic uncle. Eric’s parents died in a plane crash, and Eric as been obsessed with flying since the tragedy.

The actors who play Milly and Eric give nuanced and effecting performances. Fred Savage is delightful as a kid whose strategy for coping with his father's death is both grim and comically engaging. The adults in The Boy Who Could Fly add breadth and depth to the story: Bonnie Bedelia as the frazzled mother; Colleen Dewhurst as the understanding Mrs. Sherman; and Fred Gwynne as Uncle Hugo, a loving guardian who is battling his own demons.

Whether Eric can really fly is open to discussion, but this heartwarming and delightful film tells a great story.

National Missing Children's Day

With the recent recovery of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, the topic of missing children is just as important as ever. On May 25th, 1979 six year old Etan Patz disappeared in New York while walking to school. Though he still has not been found, his disappearance sparked a larger awareness of growing instances of missing children. In 1983 President Ronald Regan designated May 25th as National Missing Children’s Day in commemoration of Etan and other missing children. Every administration since has used May 25th “to renew efforts to reunite missing children with their families, remember those who are still missing, and make child safety a national priority.”

One of the challenges posed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is their Take 25 program. This program encourages parents to take 25 minutes to talk to their children and promote child safety. Wonder how to address such a topic with your child? The NCMEC has a page with some ideas for how to start the conversation.

Another way to promote child safety is to host an event or find and event near you. A Take 25 event is “any opportunity to begin a conversation around the issue of child safety.” If you register your event Take 25 will send you free materials to distribute. Ready to host an event? Click here.

Dr. Joyce Brothers, the "mother of mass media psychology", has died

Dr. Joyce Brothers, whose soft voice, clear explanations, and preference for pastels calmed generations of anxious, questioning Americans, has died.

In 1955, Dr. Brothers was a wife and new mother. Her doctor husband was paid $50 a month as a resident. Looking for a way to pay the bills, Dr. Brothers studied the popular game show The $64,000 Question and realized that the most popular contestants were the ones with the most improbable interests. At 5', with delicate features, Brothers, who had a PhD from Columbia and a near-photographic memory, became a self-taught expert on boxing before becoming a contestant. The result of her astute analysis and hard-charging studying was that, after riveting weeks on the show, she became the first woman to win the big prize.

That national attention led to a multi-pronged media presence as a straight-shooting advice expert. She had several TV shows that bore her name, a call-in radio show, a column in Good Housekeeping magazine, and she enjoyed frequent guest appearances on television. She also authored several books, including the 1981 What Every Woman Should Know about Men.

Dr. Brothers, who was 85, died in Fort Lee, NY of respiratory failure.

Born into Brothels

This is a stirring documentary about “the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art.” Born into Brothels follows several young children who live in the red light district of Calcutta. Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski collaborated on piecing together this beautiful film. Briski formed an interest in the children living in the red light district while living in a brothel and photographing the woman. The interest blossomed into a desire to provide the children of these women with cameras and some basic instruction on photography. The result is a fascinating insight into a life that is foreign to many of us. Many of the children’s photographs are highlighted and are a beautiful depiction of a difficult life. You cannot help but be uplifted by the laughter of these kids as they run through the streets taking pictures. One particularly unforgettable segment of the film is when Briski takes the children to the beach in order to photograph the surroundings. Their excitement is palpable and the resulting photographs are striking.

The beauty of this documentary is not only in the aesthetic appeal of the pictures, but also the impact that photography has on the children’s lives. In an atmosphere of poverty and illegal sex trafficking, the hope that is generated from empowering the children in this environment is inspiring. Art and education are two very powerful things and Born into Brothels chronicles providing access to both.

The film won the 77th Academy Awards for Best Documentary and the film’s website Kids with Cameras (KWC) is definitely worth visiting. You can view the kid’s photographs as well as get updates on what they went on to do after the film. KWC has since completed a merge with another nonprofit organization Kids with Destiny. This merger has resulted in the realization of a KWC project Hope House which is expected to be completed later this year.

If you like Born into Brothels, you may also like Wade in the Water, Children, a documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina told from the perspective of the children who lived through it.

Performance Network: The Mountaintop Opens April 25

The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, runs April 25 - June 2 at Performance Network in Ann Arbor. As the play opens, the date is April 3, 1968, the night before the assassination of Martin Luther King. A maid in the motel where he is staying shows up dripping wet on his doorstep and they share a powerful conversation. This is the Michigan premiere of a play that enjoyed a run on Broadway. Ticket information is available on the Performance Network website.

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