Posted in Reading

Book Review: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

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Title: Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave
Author: Jonathan Stroud
My Rating: 5 stars

Rarely do I find a book or a series of books that I love as much as Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud. This weekend, I finished The Empty Grave, the fifth and final book in the series, and the feelings I have about these characters’ stories coming to an end are very bittersweet.

The Lockwood & Co. series is about teenage ghost hunters in London. It is set in a time when ghosts have become a big problem in society. Instead of just one or two popping up now and then, they’re everywhere, and they’re dangerous. Ghost-touch is fatal, and adults are especially vulnerable because they can’t see the spirits. Children and teenagers are the ones with the Talents– the ability to see, hear, and sometimes communicate with the dead– so they are the ones hired to fight the ghosts, locate their Sources, and seal them to protect the living. Most of the agencies have adult supervision, but not Lockwood & Co. This small, independent group works without adults, and they’re not afraid to break the rules (or burn a few houses down) to get the job done.

In The Empty Grave, the Lockwood team, consisting of Lucy Carlyle (the sensitive who can communicate with Type 3 ghosts), Anthony Lockwood (the confident, reckless leader of the group), George Cubbins (the always-messy, expert researcher), and their associates (Holly, Kipps, Flo, and the Skull in the jar) are homing in on something big. They think the head of the top agency in London is not who she claims to be and they may actually be close to solving the ghost problem. But in order to prove they’re right, they have to face more danger than ever before, and may even have to take a trip to The Other Side.

One of my favorite things about this book is the Skull in the jar. The Skull is a character in the story, an unusual one. He is the Source of the ghost of a teenage boy, but he’s trapped in a silver glass jar, so he’s not dangerous, and he can communicate with Lucy. He’s sarcastic and rude to her but sometimes helpful, and I love the interactions between them. In this book, the Skull keeps trying to persuade Lucy to let him out of the jar, though he’s not exactly convincing. Here’s an exchange from page 99 of The Empty Grave:

“‘Say I let you out. What would you do?’
I’d flit about. Stretch my plasm. Might strangle Cubbins. Carry out a spot of casual ghost-touch, now and again. Just simple hobbies.’

I think the author writes the Skull’s voice really well. Although he can be a giant pain to Lucy, I love his wit and humor and enjoy listening to his snide remarks.

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How I spent my Saturday…

I love to read, but I am often a slow reader. However, I flew through The Empty Grave, finishing this 437-page book in less than a week. On Saturday, I read for hours, losing a few fingernails and gaining a LOT of calories in the meantime. (I like to snack while I read.) I kept trying to put the book down to do chores or grade papers, but I couldn’t stay away for long. I couldn’t leave my favorite characters alone in such desperate situations. I had to go back. I had to know what happened next. That’s another reason why I love Jonathan Stroud’s books. His characters feel like friends. I’m never lonely when I’m hanging out with Lucy and Lockwood and George. (And the Skull in the jar.)

That brings me to the only thing I didn’t like about The Empty Grave: it ended. I loved the book, but I hate that this story is over. I will miss my character friends. However, there is a way to keep in touch with them. YOU can read the books, and you can tell me what they’re up to. I’d really like that.

If the Lockwood & Co. series sounds like something you would enjoy, start with book one, The Screaming Staircase, and tell my friends hello for me.

Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Underneath

I spent the weekend grading my students’ journals, and it made me want to post this poem, which was published in Encore: Prize Poems of the NFSPS in 2015.

Underneath

I straightened the mirror a couple of times,
     so I have OCD,
then got distracted by a dog,
     so you added ADD.
I washed my hands after your high-five,
     so I’m a hypochondriac,
and when I frowned in the crowded mall,
     you said, “Don’t have a panic attack.”
I didn’t cry in Titanic or Bambi,
     so you think I’m a freak,
but I’ve seen Star Wars a hundred times,
     so I must be a geek.
I got 2300 on my SAT,
     so now I’m also a nerd.
Then I tensed when you gave me a hug,
     so you say I have Asperger’s.
It’s hard to live with so many labels—
     you have a name for each of my moods.
Despite how much you think you know,
     there’s something you forget to include.
While you catalogue each sign and symptom,
     trying out every disease,
underneath those acronyms,
     is a person, and that person is me.

© Carie Juettner

Posted in Life, Teaching

Be the Rubber Band

On Saturday night, while Austin was getting its relatively mild dose of Hurricane Harvey, we ordered Chinese food (and gave the poor delivery guy a hefty tip for braving the rain to bring us kung pao shrimp and egg rolls).

When I finished eating, I opened my fortune cookie and found this:

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Um… what?

I shared this piece of “wisdom” on Facebook and got lots of responses. One person thought I should turn it into a horror story, and another suggested it came from an opium den, but most people seemed as clueless as I was. No one offered up a possible meaning. So I shrugged, chalked it up to one of the mysteries of the universe, and forgot about it.

Until tonight.

After a shortened day of teaching that seemed extra long, I went to yoga. Jess, my Hatha teacher at YogaYoga is amazing. She is a patient, supportive, experienced yogi who helps her students challenge themselves in safe ways, but she’s also just a damn good teacher. People who are truly born to teach can teach anything and do it well. Jess not only exercises our bodies, she exercises our minds. She never fails to inspire positivity and light and compassion for one another (and ourselves) even in the darkest of times, and she does so with humor and grace. I’ve been to her class the day after tragic shootings. I’ve been to her class the day after racist riots. I’ve been to her class the day after catastrophic storms. And every single time, she acknowledges the event and leads us to a place, both physically and spiritually, where we can overcome it. I really admire this woman, and I strive to teach like she does.

Today, at the beginning of class, Jess encouraged us to set an intention. This is common in yoga classes, to give yourself a goal or a focus of some sort. I usually try to keep mine simple. Be creative. Be productive. Be relaxed. Be patient. But today I hadn’t thought about it before arriving, and before I could even consider what I wanted out of my week, this thought floated through my head:

The rubber bands are heading in the right direction.

Okay…

The thing is, I’ve learned to listen during yoga—to my teacher, to the world, and to myself. Even when things don’t make sense at first, their meaning usually reveals itself later on. So I decided to go with it.

Fine, I thought. I shall be the rubber band. And suddenly, it all became clear: I will stretch myself, but not to the breaking point. I will push myself, but not lose sight of who I am. I will reach as far as possible, but always come back home.

During yoga, I expanded my lungs and extended my arms and stretched my muscles, but then I relaxed into child’s pose.

Tonight, I will write and work and take care of my home, but when I get tired, I will sleep and leave the rest for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will give my all to my students during class, but I will sit and eat chocolate for five minutes during my conference period before I check email and grade papers.

And this week, when the rain keeps falling on Houston, I will donate money, send healing thoughts, and welcome with open arms any displaced children who arrive at my school. And I will hope that the people of Texas have the strength to bounce back from this.

***

Note: Hurricane Harvey is no joke. The damage is devastating, and it is far from over. If you want to help, here is a list of reputable organizations accepting donations.