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Just BreatheChicago cartoonist Sarah Moon tackles life’s real issues with a healthy dose of sharp wit in her syndicated comic strip Just Breathe. As Sarah’s cartoon alter ego, Shirl, undergoes artificial insemination, her situation begins to mirror Sarah’s own difficult attempts to conceive. However, Sarah’s dreams of the future did not include her husband’s infidelity; snag number two in Sarah’s so-called perfect life.

With Chicago — and her marriage — in the rearview mirror, she flees to the small Northern California coastal town where she grew up, a place she couldn’t wait to leave. Now she finds herself revisiting the past — an emotionally distant father and the unanswered questions left by her mother’s death. As she comes to terms with her lost marriage, Sarah encounters a man she never expected to meet again: Will Bonner, the high school heartthrob she’d skewered mercilessly in her old comics. Now a local firefighter, he’s been through some changes himself. But just as her heart is about to reawaken, Sarah discovered she is pregnant. With her ex’s twins.

This novel was a nice break from complex literature and AP exam prep. It’s the kind of book that would be perfect to read at the beach or in the hammock outside; there isn’t a lot of thought necessary to understand the plot — girl hated boy in high school, while he never noticed her, but when she moves back years later, sparks fly.

Characters come across as a bit flat, although I did like Sarah and Will’s daughter, Aurora. Multiple story lines are presented but were not all completely explored, and Just Breathe as a whole was a little slow. The arson aspect was just a sideline attraction and hastily thrown together at the end along with the rest of the novel.

Book Mentioned:

  • Wiggs, Susan. Just Breathe. New York: Mira, 2008. Print. 400 pgs. ISBN: 0778325776. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Mira. Retrieved: October 20, 2011.

RumspringaAs seem to be on an Amish kick lately, I thought I would stop reading all those Beverly Lewis novels and actually read some nonfiction on this culture. In Rumspringa, though, Shachtman makes a claim that this culture, this religion is in fact a cult, and brings readers into the fold with his dissection of the Amish way of life with a heavy emphasis placed on rumspringa, an odd but time tested practice of allowing teenagers to experience all “worldly” things in order to bring them back into the “cult.”

The book covers a wide range of topics — from the Amish’s practice of removing their children from school after eighth grade to their belief doctrine to the suppression of women amongst the Amish to the use of illegal substances and underage drinking while in rumspringa — but the fluidity from one topic to another isn’t there. But what really carries this book is his interviews with Amish teenagers and the continuation of their stories in every chapter, and even then their stories are lost amidst his interviews with “worldly” doctors and psychologist about the effect of rumpsringa and Amish values, in general, on teens. I would have preferred for Shachtman to follow a handful of Amish teens through rumspringa rather than just giving me a small taste of their lives.

Towards the middle of the book I began to lose interest, and just wished for Shachtman to get on with it as Rumspringa is very repetitive. He adds too much of his own opinion and not enough about his subjects’ experiences. Rumspringa is very vague about the teens’ lives, and I would like to see “Devil’s Playground,” from which this book and its interviews were derived, in order to view more about this tradition.

Book Mentioned:

  • Shachtman, Tom. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to be Amish. New York: North Point, 2007. Print. 286 pgs. ISBN: 9780865477421. Source: Library.
Book Cover © North Point Press.

Been There Should've Done ThatBeen There, Should’ve Done That is a small flip book filled with quotes from college students from across the country at small colleges and large universities about the secrets they’ve learned to stay afloat — and succeed — in college. Some of it is common sense such as go to class, suck up to your professors, and study, study, study. But some of these insights are things I never would have considered, and the majority are phrased in a way that makes them laugh out loud funny.

“The good news is having a printer. The bad news is everyone knowing you have it. It’s like living in a Kinko’s annex.” (pg. 13)

This would make a pretty good gift for a college-bound senior; I know I’m planning on including it in graduation gifts for friends.

Book Mentioned:

  • Tyler, Suzette. Been There, Should’ve Done That: 505 Tips for Making the Most of College. Haslett, Mich.: Front Porch, 1997. Print. 215 pgs. ISBN: 9780965608640

Book Cover © Front Porch Press.

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