Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: The Ones We Choose

The Ones We Choose by [Clark, Julie]

About the Book:

Lisa Genova meets 23andMe in this exploration of the genetic and emotional ties that bind, as debut author Julie Clark delivers a compelling read about a young boy desperate to find his place in this world, a mother coming to terms with her own past, and the healing power of forgiveness.

The powerful forces of science and family collide when geneticist Paige Robson finds her world in upheaval: Her eight-year-old son Miles is struggling to fit in at his new school and begins asking questions about his biological father that Paige can’t answer—until fate thrusts the anonymous donor she used into their lives.

Paige’s carefully constructed life begins to unravel as the truth of Miles’s paternity threatens to destroy everything she has grown to cherish. As Paige slowly opens herself up—by befriending an eccentric mother, confronting her own deeply buried vulnerabilities, and trying to make sense of her absent father’s unexpected return—she realizes breakthroughs aren’t only for the lab. But when tragedy strikes, Paige must face the consequences of sharing a secret only she knows.

With grace and humor, Julie Clark shows that while the science is fascinating, solving these intimate mysteries of who we are and where we come from unleashes emotions more complex than the strands of DNA that shape us.

My Comments:

I'm Catholic and the Catholic Church has a reputation for being unfeeling and unrealistic when it comes to matters of family planning.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that sex, marriage and babies go together--and that to have one while purposefully blocking the others is wrong.  No marriage without sex, no sex without marriage, no sex that doesn't allow the possibility of a baby (no, sex isn't limited to fertile people or fertile times in life, but you can't use artificial birth control to cut out the possibility of a child nor can you engage in sexual behavior that is by design, infertile such as homosexual or auto-erotic acts)and no babies without marriage or without sex (even if having sex doesn't result in a baby).  While sometimes those teachings can be hard to live up to and even seem needlessly cruel, The Ones We Choose is Exhibit "A" on their wisdom.

Paige wanted a baby, but not a husband,so she got pregnant via a sperm donor.  She sees no reason her son should know or want to know anything about the sperm donor but of course, her son doesn't see it that way.  

As fate would have it, Paige had reason to believe she knew who the donor was and had reason to want to confirm it so she broke the ethical rules of her own lab to find out if her suspicions were correct.  

During the book Paige was seeing a man who loved her and (of course) was sleeping with her (no graphic scenes).  He wasn't happy with that status quo, but she was--she didn't want him too close.  

For pretty much the whole book Paige does what Paige thinks is best for Paige, what meets Paige's supposed needs and wants without considering the effect those actions have on others.  Nope, I didn't like Paige at all and that I'm sure colored my opinion of the book.

Actually, it was a well-written story with characters you really felt you knew when the story was over; the problem for me was rooting for Paige and not wanting to shake my "I told you so" finger in her face.  It's hard to rate a book that I have to admit was well-done, but which is about a woman whose life values are so different from my own.  I guess I'll give the book a B.  

Christ in the Classroom: My Review

Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind by [Dees, Jared]

About the Book:

If the goal of catechesis is to cultivate an encounter with Christ, why do religious educators spend so much time focused almost exclusively on ideas and not experiences? The reason is that many have never been shown a method that inspires the heart while also instructing the mind. Jared Dees, creator of the popular website The Religion Teacher, shows how applying the steps of lectio divina to teaching can reorient religious education toward encountering the person of Christ rather than merely sharing information about him.

In Christ in the Classroom, Catholic author and speaker Jared Dees applies the five steps of lectio divina—reading/learning, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action—to the ministry of catechesis. He offers teachers and catechists a practical framework for preparing lessons that broaden the focus of teaching from mostly intellectual learning to also encountering Christ in prayer, reflection, and action. Using this method, students and catechists come to know intimately the person of Christ at the same time that they are learning the tenets and traditions of the Church.

Dees shares stories of success and failure from his own teaching experience and he offers dozens of field-tested strategies, tactics, and teaching methods to effectively integrate the steps of lectio divina into the classroom or other catechetical setting.

Outfitted with these tools, both experienced and new religious educators will feel confident in their ability to teach effectively and lead their students to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

About Me:

I've spent a lot of time as a catechist.  When I was in junior high and high school I used to help with the pre-school religion program in my parish.  My Senior year I was asked to teach the third grade class, along with a friend.  When I was in college I taught for three years, and then, when my older kids went to public school I taught for six years, and later, for one more.  While I never claimed to be the best, I was available, willing, and I think I managed to teach a few kids a few things over the years.  In short, I never felt like I was wasting my time.

Last year a friend who has taught seventh grade religion in my parish for years asked me to help with her class.  She had thirteen kids, several of whom were major problems.  She needed back-up.  I agreed to help her, though my previous experience with kids has generally been with younger kids (almost all of those years described above were with third grade).  By the end of the year I was completely convinced that we were wasting our time.  

Few of our students attended Mass regularly; some I had never seen at Mass.  They did not seem to know the basic stories of the faith.  Our textbook was filled with words like "transubstantiation" and "epiclesis" but many of these kids experienced Communion as a once in a lifetime event, or so it seemed to me.  Why were we there?  What was the point?  I felt like a social studies teacher rushing through a chapter--but instead of giving the kids a test on the chapter next week so we knew they studied and learned it, we moved on to the next one.  

I've been an "internet Catholic" for a long time--starting back in the days of AOL message boards.  While I haven't heard it so much lately, "back in the day" what I'd read over and over again is that the reason so many of my peers--the late Baby Boomers--left the Church or became only lukewarm or "cafeteria" members was  because of poor catechesis.

While our parents and older siblings had the Baltimore Catechism and were taught lots of knowledge about our faith, by the time my age-mates and I came along, it was the Sadlier "Hippie Jesus" books that were big on pictures and low on content.  My junior high and high school classes never had textbooks.  Yes, said the internet, the problem was lack of content--while we spent our CCD classes talking about feelings and treating other people properly, we weren't learning what we needed to learn to keep us in the faith.

As noted above, I've taught in many different parishes over the years but third grade is where I seem to land.  As either a student or a teacher I've used five different editions of Sadlier's third grade book.  Each was more wordy and less life-based than the one before.  Now my parish uses Loyola Press.

My Comments About the Book:

I found Christ in the Classroom when perusing NetGalley one day and decided to give it a try.  It is Jared Dees' thesis that unless our students develop a relationship with Christ, we are wasting our time.  I tend to agree.  While I understand why religion texts seem to have gotten longer and more complex over the years, it seems to me, especially when working with basically unchurched kids, that all we are doing is (attempting to)filling their heads with trivia.  If you have no relationship with Jesus are you going to attend Mass?  If you don't attend Mass, does it matter if you can define transubstantiation or epiclesis? 

Dees advocates integrating real times of prayer into your class and the form of prayer he advocates is Lectio Divina, basically praying with scripture. 

Regarding those overly wordy textbooks, Dees recommends picking a limited number of points to make and rather than trying to cover the whole chapter, make those points in a variety of ways--and then use them as a basis for prayer. 

The book itself is easy to read and would be a good gift for any new catechist and well as for experienced ones who are open to trying something new. 

Dees is the author of the website The Religion Teacher which has both free and paid resources. 

I'd like to thank Dees and the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade: B+

Monday, July 02, 2018

When We Found Home

When We Found Home by [Mallery, Susan]

About the Book:

Life is meant to be savored, but that’s not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you’d rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn’t know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister—Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old. Callie doesn’t love being alone, but at least it’s safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can’t figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love. But love isn’t Malcolm’s strong suit…until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

My Comments:

Susan Mallery's books are generally hit or miss for me--and there have been plenty of misses--but this one was a hit.  Callie, Malcolm and Keira are all the children of single mothers, and all the children of a single man who left those mothers.  Malcolm learned about his father when he was young--he and his mom moved in with his grandfather shortly before his mother died.  The girls never knew their father, and their grandfather learned about them while going through his late son's papers.  The grandfather hunted down these two girls (whose mothers had both died) and brings them home to the family mansion, giving them a lifestyle unlike any they had previously lived. 

Rags to riches stories are always fun and this one was no exception.  Keira had been in foster care, and before that, with a mother who really wasn't there for her.  Callie got in with the wrong crowd in high school and instead of going to graduation she ended up in prison.  She had been out for a while when her grandfather found her, but like many ex-cons was having a rough time of it.  Now they are living in the lap of luxury and having a hard time adjusting to it. 

The strength of this book is the characters--the grandfather who wants to know his grandkids, even if his son didn't want them.  The ex-con whose heart has been hardened, only to have it softened by a girl who needs love.  The girl who was taken out of foster care and given a suite of rooms, an allowance and a private school education.  The young man who knows how to grow a company, but needs help in matters of the heart. 

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B. 

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