Zara, Leave

“I can’t quite contain, or explain my evil ways, or explain why I’m not sane, all I can say is this is your warning.” – Duality, by Set It Off

×××

Zara, leave me alone!

No, I won’t go.

Zara, go be free.

No, I won’t leave.

Why can’t you see,

The monster is me,

The end of my sanity.

Why won’t it go?

Oh, I don’t know.

Why can’t you stay?

Zara, please don’t play.

I know, you warned me
But it’s here I’d rather be,
Than somewhere safe and free.

I can’t quite explain how or why!

I know, I won’t pry,

About the monster inside.

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The Case of the Stolen Strokes of Heaven: An Annoying Teenage Misadventure

Keith lifted the wooden lid that covered his desk only to recoil in shock of the sight he beheld.

“My sketchbook,” he noted. “It’s gone.”

He had barely been gone for a matter of ten minutes, but those ten minutes that he spared to eat his lunch had turned out to be a grave mistake, as he now realized.

“Hey, Eris?” he spoke. “Are you seeing this?”

“If you mean the fact that your sketchbook is missing,” she said, with the roll of her eyes evident in her voice, “yes, yes I am. However,” she spoke, raising her nihilistic tone to one that now mocked the boy standing by her. “If you mean that I am seeing the fact hat you’ve lost your sense of normalcy, then I noticed that eons ago.”

The boy rubbed his pale temples in disdain, sending a glare worthy of only a child of Medusa towards the curly-haired tower of sarcasm above him.

“I’m serious, Eris. That had spoilers for my manga in it. It could get leaked and my spotless reputation would be soiled forevermore!”

“You don’t even have a manga,” she shook her head sadly. “It’s just a little comic you doodle about an angel and a devil who fall in love. And its on your Instagram, not even physically published.”

“But Eris,” he pleaded. “Help me find it, at least.”

“I can’t say no to that face.” She sighed. “Fine, at least give me a minute to find Zack and Connie.”

Ten minutes later four middle-schoolers were grouped around the crime scene, stating the fact of the case which had now come to be known as the ‘Case of the Stolen Strokes of Heaven’ as Connie dubbed it.

(‘But Keith’s art isn’t that great”, Eris complained. ‘Yes, it is,’ Connie declared. ‘So there.’)

“So you and Keith went down to eat lunch,” Zack summed up. “For ten minutes, and then he returns to find that his sketchbook has disappeared off the face of the earth.”

“That’s pretty much it.” Eris concluded. “Connie seems to have no input on the matter though, do you, Connie?”

“Nope. Nada. Zilch. Nahi.” Connie affirmed in four languages.

Eris rolled her eyes. “I wish I didn’t ask, you braggart.”

“Guys,” Keith spoke, for the first time in 10 minutes. “It’s been a while and we haven’t got any closer to figuring out suspects.”

“For once,” Eris noted. “Keith is right.”

“For once?” Keith exclaimed in outrage.

“Oh my God, would you two stop? Look, kids are coming into the class right now.” Zack rattled off. “We’ll scan them for any guilty faces. Eris, try not to look like you’re going to murder everyone in cold blood. Connie, stop grinning like an escaped mental hospital admittance, and Keith? Just, try not to cry? I guess?”

“I’m too tough to cry.” Keith spoke.

Connie coughed into her fist. “Just yesterday you were crying about snakes.”

“They don’t have proper eyesight! They can’t read manga!” Keith wailed.

Just then, the most petrifying danger, even worse than hurricane Irma, stormed into the class with a sour look of resignation on her face, her eyes flittering from student to student pronouncing, I hate that, I hate that and I really hate that.

It was math class, and Mrs. Johannesburg was back.

Who is Mrs. Johannesburg, you may ask? Well, you’re certainly been lucky to not know her. She was the principal of the school, nicknamed ‘The Demon Teacher’ by her pupils, who doubled as a math teacher for, well,  let us just call them…special classes. In particular, Eris’ class.

She despised Eris and her gang. Eris with her curly hair, rude demeanor and sarcastic behavior; Keith with his lack of interest in the subject and constant doodling in class; and Zack  with his tendency to identify loopholes, ask stupid questions and distract the class, they were the absolute worst.

But she loved Connie, for no apparent reason other than the fact that she kept finding more and more excessively complicated ways to do a simple sum.

Eris groaned, and Keith shifted his seat behind her to be shielded from the demon teacher as much as possible. Zack leaned back in his chair to leisurely think of the worded pranks he would pull this lesson.

Connie sat up front. Teacher’s pet, Eris thought, with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“Aargh!” Keith whisper-yelled to the dark-skinned girl to his front. “What am I supposed to do in class?”

“Look on the bright side,” Eris remarked. “You’ll listen today and scribble some notes, hopefully, instead of doodling all the time. At least you could pass the upcoming Maths teat this week.”

“Very helpful,” Keith snorted. “Especially since you’re going to sleep all lesson.”

“No, I’m not.” Eris retorted. “Now take out your book, she’s already started.”

“No, I won’t.” Keith snapped. “In fact, I’m going to-”

But we will never know what Keith was going to do, for it was Mrs. Johannesburg who did something, and that something was rapidly whipping around to face Keith and deliver one of her famous snide remarks.

“Mr. Katana,” She sneered. “I’m sure we’d all love to take a lesson from you in Maths, wouldn’t we? After all, not many of us have received the honor of getting straight F’s in this year.”

Keith visibly winced. “Sorry.”

Keith dug out his notebook and sighed, he honestly hated this class from the bottom of his heart.

Five thousand zillion bajillion years later, or maybe not, it just felt like that to Keith, the class was over. Keith stuck his hand back inside his bag to pull out his science notebook when his hand clasped around a familiar shape.

“My sketchbook!” He exclaimed in surprise.

Eris burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter as she looked into the camera of her phone.

“And that is how to trick a Keith!” She beamed into the mike.

“Oh. My. God.” Keith’s jaw dropped onto the floor. “It was you! You lying, sneaky, dirty, piece of-”

“And this is the part where you-” She was cur off short but a guttural yell from Keith as she sprang to her feet and sprinted in the direction of Zack.

“RUN!” She laughed into the phone as they darted around chairs and dived under desks.

Eris was stopped short by Keith catching both her legs as she flailed her arms and planted face-first in the ground as her other friends gathered around.

Keith placed a leg on her head, retrieved the phone and put in the ending shot.

“Okay, so, Zack and Connie,” Keith stated. “What have we learned today?”

“Never mess with Keith’s sketchbooks,” They solemnly spoke in unison. Or, you’ll get it.”

“Well spoken, my friends,” Keith spoke smugly. “Understood, Eris?”

“Get off my face,” Was Eris’ groaned response. “God, you’re such a dork.”

13 Reasons Why- You Never Really Needed to Die – A Poem Based on the Novel by Jay Asher

“13  Reasons Why” is a riveting read, no doubt. But I guess , for me, the most important thing about this book is to realize that it is 13 reasons why not to..

(Given my rebel gene, I would have said, 13 reasons you should have been a serial killer , but I digress..)

This poem is a result of  that feeling …

If rumors based on a first kiss spreading is your first reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have stood up for yourself, been bold and strong
Go on, give it a try.

If getting your name on a list in a perverted kind of way is your second reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have thought to yourself, it’s just a list,
It doesn’t determine the way your life flies.

If your best friend betraying you because of a rumor she heard is your third reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have steeled yourself, not accepting fault for none of yours,
Not cried to yourself, she did this to me, why?

If someone taking nude candid shots of you is your fourth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have slapped that intruder across his face,
And exposed him for all his ‘passionate fire’.

If a friend being fake is your fifth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have left her alone, for that’s all she’s worth,
Entertaining a fake friend is like sitting on a live wire.

If your date leaving you hanging is your sixth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have known that it didn’t really matter to you,
Made him realize his consequences were dire.

If someone stealing your positive compliments is your seventh reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have believed in yourself, not relied on others,
Because in this game of life, you shouldn’t ever tire.

If the school dissecting your personal poem is your eighth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have stood tall, unfazed, by the commotion of it all,
Even if, by now, your mind has gone haywire.

If not having a shoulder to cry on but too many emotions is your ninth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have written them down and torn them up,
Let them go like the wind flies.

If not standing up to a rapist is your tenth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have told some, confided in authority,
Bring it up, don’t let the issue slide.

If being witness to the incident that caused the death of a student is your eleventh reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have called the police right then and there,
In secrecy, do not confide.

If feeling so done you give into wrong doings is your twelfth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have strengthened your spirits, shown what you’re made of,
Into a night of guilty pleasure, don’t capsize.

If not being offered sufficient concern is your thirteenth reason why,
Then you never really needed to die.
You should have searched for comfort from yourself, or others you can trust,
Don’t add fuel to the funeral pyre.

Don’t ever give up.

Don’t give up your entire life for someone who is not even worth a moment of your time! 

 

 

Holes (Louis Sachar) – Did I dig this book?

So this year, Holes, the winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal is our selected reader for Grade 7. Here’s my review for you to chew on.

Stanley Yelnats did not steal those shoes, I repeat, they fell from the sky. He never needed to dig holes in the ironically named dry wasteland that is Camp Green Lake. This was all the fault of his” no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.”

Stanley Yelnats has an interesting family history, from the pig-stealing Elya Yelnats to Stanley Yelnats (the II) who got robbed by the famed outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. His story wraps up the tale of bad luck following his family for generations. He is an intriguing protagonist with a different body type and a mindset worth thinking about.

First off, the very real bullying problem. Stanley is overweight, and would be the first to admit it. For this he gets bullied by a puny short kid, however, his teachers don not believe him, revealing a common stereotype: larger kids are aggressive and bullies. Tiny kids can’t be bullies. Derrick (a kid who, on the day Stanley ‘stole’ the shoes, had dunked his notebooks in the toilet) is short and miniature in size , contrary to what most children believe a bully looked like.
And, since we’re on the topic of bullying, another thing the book portrays is bullying well beyond what I thought was its reach. I saw it rear up its ugly head in various circumstances, like an adult bullying another adult, or an adult bullying a child. This is shown during the scenes where the head of the camp, the Warden, repeatedly directs physical threats in both counselors’ (Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir) direction and when the counselor for Stanley’s cabin, Mr. Pendanski, never misses a chance to point out the low intelligence of the mute-by-choice, Hector Zeroni or Mr. Sir (the supervisor) throwing an insult at Stanley’s masculinity.

Secondly, can we just take a moment to appreciate Hector Zeroni’s mental strength? A kid whose life until then had just been stealing, ended up being orphaned and homeless and after finding a group of people who could be potential friends, gets shut out from them and is nicknamed “Zero” (quote-unquote, ‘because there’s nothing in his head’) by his cabin mates, and it is religiously used by the campers as well as the counselors. Despite this, he’s in a very good state, both physically and mentally and is the nicest to Stanley, digging his hole when he decides to cover for the group, even though Zero doesn’t share any of the guilt. And even after running away with no water, he still survives and is alive after a little over a day, when Stanley finds him. Have to learn that power of positive outlook from him“When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up.”

A little problem I had with the story were the plotholes, which were probably intentional due to the corresponding title.  To top it, the author adds the element of slight mystery ..very interesting, letting the reader interpret the story their own way. I found it made reading a bit harder, made me think more. I cant say I loved the style. However, this is my personal opinion and you’ll have to read it yourself to understand.

The best written thing about this story is the friendship that blossoms between the great-great grandson of Elya Yelnats and the great-great-great grandson of Madame Zeroni. A healthy relationship built on the simple basis of teaching the other to read, grows into a strong bond that eventually leads to Hector’s release from the camp along with Stanley and a role model for the kind of friendships we should inculcate today (though not under the same circumstances), in our daily life.

Friendships should be shown openly and are not flimsy sheets to cower under when you get into trouble. This is shown when ‘Magnet’ steals a bag of sunflower seeds and all the boys (besides Zero) are enjoying the change in regime, when all of a sudden someone tosses the bag to Stanley and it open above his hole and spills into it. Their supervisor, whom the seeds actually belonged to, comes over to check on them and Stanley takes the blame with the rest of them voicing their fake betrayal. After coming back, the rest of the boys still don’t appreciate him for covering for them, saying he should have caught it in the first place, while Zero, who doesn’t even have anything to do with the seeds in the first place, has finished digging his hole for him. Later on, the other boys are slightly hostile to him, despite vocalizing their friendship multiple times.

This particular incident and the whole book makes you think about the qualities of friends we have. Are they compassionate? Reliable? Honest? Would they stand up for you? I’d choose a friend like Hector Zeroni any day. What about you?

Another theme is the good old “Whatever goes around, comes around” A rather intricate version plays out repeatedly in the plot of Holes. The family curse , the plight of the town of Green Lake, and Stanley’s readiness to risk his life .. many things come a complete circle. The past keep turning up, to shape and influence the present. Indeed makes you truly ruminate on the long term consequences of your actions…reminded me of the “karma theory” mom talks about often. 

All in all a very different and intriguing book! clearly  a great choice by my school.

 

PS: do leave a line to tell me what you thought about my review

Spark Creativity and Vocabulary with Picture Prompts – EBook Review -An Adventure awaits..

When I received this book , quite by chance,  I was indeed surprised and delighted. As someone who delights in creative writing  and spinning a yarn, this book is a gold mine!!

The book is  a collection of  40 colourful, varied and detailed images in different styles by a group of  super talented artists. The logic is simple.. Flip through the book, pick any picture as a starting point  and there you have it.. a surefire way to get children’s creative juices  flowing and imagination running wild.

The book begins with a valuable guide by Santhini Govindan sharing a myriad of ways to use the book from being a great conversation starter for a toddler, to a story building group activity to asking leading questions in a creative writing class, like pulling the child’s attention to the environment or the emotions of the characters, poetry possibilities to even as a drawing tool!

Oh.. what a treasure waits for you ahead! The quality of this collection of pictures is simply outstanding! Let me go through some of our experiences with these.

Alankrita Jain’s  intriguing illustrations ,  Toon girl on a potted plant reminded a five year old of a Thumbelina-esque adventure and had me thinking up  a shrinking potion.  Lost in the market lead to one mystery adventure with an Indian mystic who had made the village temple disappear!

Ameya Narvankar ‘s Indie takes flight held promises of a full series of travel diaries of a mystery cat. My seven year old brother is  contemplating whether this cat should meet Geronimo in one of his adventures!

Ashok Rajagopalan ‘s illustrations, one of our favourites since  “Gajapati Kulapati” presented  us  with a great range of themes from a The squirrel’s camera  to The baby’s puddle and a Spaceship above the sea

Nancy Raj ‘s creations  The girl and the tambourine and  The monkey and the flute seller had us marvelling at the colourful art and coming up with different stories funny situations and interesting songs while  Brown cat prowls had us scratching our heads to come up with a feline problem

Partha Sengupta‘s  The empty box  gave me a chance to tell the story of Pandora’s box to my brother (warning him not to open my boxes…but I digress), a fairy hiding the corner or a mystery note asking her to follow the treasure map! The Ghost in the turret explores the possibilities of a fun entry into the horror or just a silly prank !

Shruti Kabo‘  Fossil opened up the the journey to the dear world of the dinosaurs while the Book Reading Monster reminded my brother of Dr Seuss’s Horton hears a Hoo as he created a small world that lived on the monster that he was unaware of at first!…

Soniya Bhase’s intriguing The pink and green family  and  Grandpa and his green forest started some more serious thought provoking talks on teen trouble that resonated with me and environmental concerns

Zainab Tambawalla ‘s vivid Grandma and the tiger was one of the illustrations that caught our attention right away. Who can stay away from  the tale of a Grandma who seemed so energetic and vibrant, almost dancing that too with a tiger!

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, just sitting down even while you are waiting in an airport or travelling in car, this book had a potential to transport you in a new storyland! In today’s age where people are often looking for ready to use boxes and helper words sets and a fixed set of questions , I really love that the author has simply done a splendid job of presenting a collection of mind blowing images and then left a white space for the creativity to bloom.

The only little thing the doodler in me would have loved is the illustrator’s name at the bottom of each image.

Thank You Shyamala Shanmugasundaram for this innovative and superbly illustrated treat!

You can buy this book  here on Amazon

Unbroken – Putting together the pieces!

Shoutout to The Duckbill Blog, for commenting on my Summer Reading List and suggesting Unbroken, a book that rendered me speechless and touched my heart and soul. Three cheers for Nandita Nambi!

The author has done an amazing job of portraying a teenager’s mental drama and angst.(like Dumbledore says.. “Just because it is happening in your mind doesn’t mean it is not real” ).

..and without romance. So First YAY!!! for  YA novel without romance. Yes, there are a whole bunch of heart-wrenching romance and even action stories with touching romances, I’ve read quite a few. The Fault in Our Stars (Hazel and Augustus), The House of Hades (both Percabeth and Percico), The Lost Oracle (Solangelo), and of course, The Cursed Child (Scorbus, duh.) (Parents, you don’t need to look this up if you don’t already know. It’s a teenage thing.).  But I was really glad the novel steered cleared of diluting this experience with an ill fitting romantic interest.

The characters are well-crafted, completely realistic and relatable. The book is  not much about the events, but the whirlwind of emotions that wrap around you.  And our protagonist, Akriti, is the centre of it all. She’s rude, mean, aggressive, sarcastic and doesn’t care about  her studies or other people’s feelings. Then she has a ridiculously perfect younger brother, and her parents fight. She sketches (dark of course) and listens to music, shutting out the rest of the world. Just another petulant teen stuck in her daily troubles? …but wait.

Can you blame her? She’s paralysed from the waist down.  But  at no point does the author try to make her likable , rise above her pain heroically or arouse our sympathy. (Quite unlike Wonder where you are rooting for Augustus).

The story is from her POV and her anger, frustration and disgust seethes through her pain. As I read, finding her behaviour largely unacceptable yet I could see myself there.. wanting to be strong rather than wallow in sympathy, angry rather than accept her pain, be scary rather than get hurt.

What I loved ?  While talking about disability in an honest and unpatronizing way itself is no mean feat, here are a few other aspects I loved:

  1. Sibling Rivalry – Don’t you hate it when your sibling can do stuff that you can’t? Whether it’s effortlessness completing a jigsaw puzzle that took you hours or churning out amazing projects done in the last minute, for which you take weeks, living in the shadow of your sibling is something a kid never wants to face. Forget the accomplishments, how do you deal with it when they are just a better human being than you are?
    Yet beneath the permanent tiff and I -wish- you- weren’t- born, there is an inexplicable deep love and  those tender moments between brother and sister ..reminded me grudgingly of a few of my own.
  2. Fights between Parents/ elders –  The pain and the torture  of having the very people who are supposed to be raising you, fighting  and blaming  each other… for your mistakes? Really, while  I saw her shut them out sometimes, label them and even exploit them, I pondered about similar arguments and what I may have thought of them  inadvertently.
  3. Seeing a Shrink – Again a rather rarely written about topic,  a child who sees a psychiatrist when she is not crazy or has not had a nervous or emotional breakdown yet...simply because sometimes  the expertise helps and sometimes having a neutral person makes it much each to talk. ..or listen.
  4. Smoking – Though this wasn’t an objective, there was a slight undertone on the importance of not smoking. The protagonist’s friend, Karthik, tries smoking and she’s repulsed by it and snatches the pack away from him. Smoking is not cool.. take one look at the images of its aftereffects (mom thrust some seriously gory images of lung cancer at me and pretty sensible statistics) and you’ll be scarred for life. Why would you choose to breathe in extra pollution anyway?

sauxmlzlsm-1493530375I also loved the Cover art, all fragile , handle with care symbols, a wheelchair and  a stamp declaring UNBROKEN.  (not sure if the leg symbol with a cross and a temp sign were chosen on purpose..but it is beginning to give me an idea for my door sign!) 

So there it is, a book that I loved and a  recommended #must-read for teens that go through life sulking, mad at life, complaining and screaming about its unfairness, hurt when often just a change of attitude is all that is required..to start sketching rainbows and unicorns again. (ok ..that was a bit too much :))

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading Bucket List – From this Pre-Teen to Yours!

 

Summer vacations have finally started, so I’m super pumped up and ready to read! (And avoid studying Hindi.)

Ah, summer break. A time for leisure, recreation, and taking ‘er easy. Unless you’re me. (If you get this reference, I will love you for life!)

The life of a voracious reader has never been easy. The constant search for good books, the trouble of keeping up your grades at the same time, and of course, floating various extracurricular activities like guitar, swimming, taekwondo, breakdance and music as well.

But that’s why you need a little help, and hence my  list so you don’t miss the very best ones..as per me anyway!

So here’s my list of books to read for the summer, if you haven’t read them already.

  1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I’ve already written a detailed review for this series here but I still felt the need to feature it here, since it still has me writing fanfiction. After the destruction of North America, Panem is created. With 12 districts that are penniless, and a Capitol that kills their citizens for their pure amusement and to establish their superiority, a rebellion is bound to happen. With a captivating plot, a dystopian setting and unrequited romance, it has it all. I’m pretty sure it’ll have you eating out of its palm…er, pages?
  2. Wonder by R J Palacio – Another book with a detailed review, this book is a wonderful read for children and their parents alike, teaching them to be a little more kinder than necessary. August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, a smart and talented kid, talks and acts normal…until you see his face. A story so well written, you can almost see it happening. And the sad part, that’s actually true…it doesn’t matter whether its a rare facial disorder or just simply being overweight, kids are getting bullied, and this is one such story that will tug at your heartstrings.
  3. Like Smoke by Paro Anand –  With a detailed review here, all I need to say is the story takes credit for its relatability to the struggles of teen and pre-teen life. This book is very useful if you have a hard time squeezing in reading into your schedule. With short story that can be read anytime, anywhere, you can get books back into your system…and this one will have you coming back for more.
  4. Chained by Lynne Kelly – I read this book in fourth grade and I was a complete wreck. After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt, meeting his new best friend.  The pure, moving, and undeniable tale of friendship with the elephant and Hastin’s compassion, a wondrous power to love and strength beyond his years is sure to linger in your mind. This is a book that will impact your life and change your viewpoint on most things.
  5. Talking Of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar – A book to chew on. At first, I didn’t really know whether I should add this book to the list, since it revolves around a controversial plot. The story of an attempted suicide and the events that lead up to it, written by the three people closest to her – her ex-best friend (Aaliya), the stereotypical rich kid who plays golf and polo and is hugely affronted when Muskaan declines to go out with him (Prateek), her current friend, whose family struggles to make ends meet, and is single-minded in his pursuit of academic excellence (Subhojoy). This strong and soulful book points out the some poignant problems of adolescent life, and how picking at a small difference can change someone’s life, and almost destroy it.

Have another must read favourite ? Do share in the comments