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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
A brilliant and moving coming-of-age story in the tradition of Wonder by R. J. Palacio and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - this debut novel is written with tremendous humor and charm.
This is Alex's story. But he doesn't know exactly what it's about yet, so you probably shouldn't either.
Instead, here are some things that it's sort of about (but not really):
It's sort of (but not really) about brain surgery.
It's sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2).
It's sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex's parents.
It's sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can't fly so they often feel left out)).
It's sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.
And it's also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.
In Assembly last year we learned about Rosa Parks, who was the black woman who sparked the Civil Rights Movement in America because she refused to move to the back of a bus. I think it's great that black people are equal now and we don't have racism anymore, but I honestly don't get why she was complaining in the first place. On our bus, sitting at the back is a privilege that is afforded to only the most senior pupils. It has taken me nearly four years to earn this position (during which time I have matured from the bright- eyed nine- year- old who arrived at Grove End with a song in his heart and raisins in his lunchbox to the worldly and cynical almost-thirteenyear-old I am today). Middle school was meant to be only a stopgap. The bus thing is pretty much the only advantage of still being here after all this time. So when I see a Year 5 stumbling hesitantly down the aisle toward me, I know exactly what's going on. A mix of Fear and Excitement struggles to articulate itself on his face. He chews the inside of a cheek with a set of primary teeth and looks up at me, his eyes round with hope. (He knows who I am, but I don't know who he is.
That's the way it works. School years are Semi-Permeable Membranes. (Moreover, everyone at school knows who I am.)) I decide to help him along.
He rehearses one last time in his head and then asks what he's meant to ask. "How are your mum's piano lessons going?" For a second I feel sorry for him. He's so small. (It's hard to believe I was once that young, even if it was three whole years ago.) He has no idea that he's about to learn a lesson he'll never forget, a lesson that will strip him of a faith in humanity he's so far never had to question. However, it's a lesson we've all learned in our time. I know my lines. I tear up a little, which I can do on demand. "My mum hasn't got any arms."
A breath dies in his throat. It's my second cue.
"Why would you ask me something like that?"
Now his face has no trouble with ambiguity. Terror sweeps across it, freezing his features in place and pricking his tear ducts. At the front of the bus, David Driscoll pops up like a Whac-A-Mole and blasts him with a "Waaaaah!" I knew he'd have had something to do with this.
Your Mum's Piano Lessons is a simple game that requires three players, Older Boy 1 (the instigator), Older Boy 2 (the accomplice), and New Boy (the mark). It works like this. Older Boy 1 sidles up to New Boy on a bus trip or on the playground and asks him if he wants to be part of a really brilliant joke. New Boy, eager to please and slightly star-struck by Older Boy 1, who he instantly recognizes and reveres on account of his seniority, discerning a valuable opportunity to associate with a social superior (and perhaps recalling from a nature documentary he's seen the levels of protection afforded to those tiny birds that clean crocodiles' teeth), gratefully accepts. Older Boy 1 then points out Older Boy 2 (who may or may not have been previously briefed, depending on his familiarity with the game) and tells New Boy that if he goes over and asks him how his mum's piano lessons are going, Older Boy 2 will break into hysterical laughter and everyone will live happily ever after. Then what just happened happens (the crocodile snaps his jaws) and New Boy scurries back to his seat or his corner of the playground, and when anyone asks why he's crying blubbers something about the high pollen count. Except this one doesn't. He couldn't move if he tried. He's staring at my head, transfixed.
"What happened to your hair?"
I'm the only one in school who's allowed to wear nonreligious headgear (there are four turbans in our year, and Simon Nagel wears a skullcap in the colors of Watford Football Club) because some of the younger kids don't understand why I'm bald and sometimes it's easier to hide things than explain them. I get a lot of looks, but it's okay. Once in Year 6 I forgot to wear my own clothes on Own Clothes Day and for the whole day I was the only kid at school in uniform, so I already know what it's like to feel ostrichized, which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can't fly, so they often feel left out). I took my sweater off and undid my top button, but that still didn't stop people from staring at me. It's weird how you can wake up one day exactly the same person as you were the day before except the world has changed around you and now you're the odd one out.
Excerpted from Ostrich by Matt Greene. Copyright © 2013 by Matt Greene. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Matt Greene's debut, Ostrich, opens with twelve-year-old Alex Graham just about to undergo brain surgery for a tumor that has been causing intense, disruptive seizures. After his surgery, he begins to notice strange things. His mother is hiding out in her new dark room. His father, a driving instructor, is spending more time with his Driver's Ed students. Alex wonders, with a helpful nudge of his friend Chloe, if his father is having an affair and his parents are getting a divorce. And if that's not upsetting enough, Jaws 2, his hamster, is thinner than before Alex's surgery and has less energy. What's up with that?
In some ways, Alex is just a regular kid on the cusp of being a teen. He discovers Internet pornography. He experiences his first kiss. His father lets him get behind the wheel of his Driver's Ed car. But Alex is also precocious and quirky - he is obsessed with mnemonics for one thing (See 'Beyond the Book'). And the way Matt Greene leads us through Alex's coming of age is anything but regular. His writing is extremely sharp-witted. One of my favorite moments is when Alex explains his skills in foreign languages: "I can swear in sixty-seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten-up in sixty-four countries." That's seriously funny stuff, but it's also clever. Greene's Ostrich has been compared to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Both authors create similar protagonists – boys with endearing personalities and bizarre brains, and like Curious Incident, this novel too should work for older teens and adults.
To be perfectly honest, though, there are moments where Ostrich becomes tedious. Tangents run amok in this story: Alex is sitting in class learning about quadratic equations when, out of left field, he contemplates an episode of Star Trek where the crew travels to a parallel universe called "Mirror Mirror," in which each of them finds an equal but opposite counterpart; and then, off again in another direction, Alex muses on the Uncertainty Principal, which is, if you care to know, the principle that the momentum and position of a particle cannot both be precisely determined at the same time. But that's the problem. I didn't always want to know. Matt Greene is a smart writer, and Alex is drawn with deft, clever strokes, but I didn't always want to follow his meandering thoughts. They weren't always all that interesting.
Then again Alex has these seizures and he has just had brain surgery for goodness sake. So maybe his mind can't help but wander. And that is extremely interesting to me the way the structure of the story parallels the protagonist's personality. Ultimately it sustained me as I watched Alex try to both move through typical pre-adolescent experiences and solve the mystery of his parents' and hamster's odd new behavior.
I leave you with this: Alex has his first seizure while he is riding his bicycle. A wrapper blows onto the fork of his wheel and as he leans over the front of his bike to pull it away, he has a vision of falling. He can see what will happen. He can, in essence, see the future. But after he falls, and is lying on the sidewalk he says:
We don't have a future in English because there's no such thing. It was just like she'd [his teacher] said. We liked to imagine we could reach out and touch it, hold it in our hands (and taste it in our spit), because that's what let us believe we were in control, but we never could be, because that would never happen. Because the future dies at our touch. Which would explain why I couldn't not fall off my bike that day. Because when I lifted my vision and saw myself flying improbably through the air, it wasn't the future I was looking at.
The future is never in our grasp. Once we think we have managed to catch it between our fingers, pressed it into the palm of our hands, and closed our fists tightly around it it is gone. We have only trapped the present. We are only in the now. And the future has run ahead of us once again. This is a big problem for Alex. And perhaps it is a problem for us all. Or perhaps the present is all that we have, and that is enough.
Reviewed by Tamara Smith
Rated of 5
Ostrich by Matt Greene
I was happy to be given the opportunity to read Ostrich as I’d heard comparison of it to two of my favorites, Wonder and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It did not disappoint me. I thought this was a great read, particularly reminiscent of the book Wonder which I also loved. There was a lot of humor in the book. The only thing criticism I have is that I wasn't crazy about the format of the ending of the book. I would also like to mention that I think the title of the book was absolutely perfect. I look forward to reading more by the author and highly recommend this book.
In Matt Greene's Ostrich, protagonist Alex Graham is obsessed with mnemonic devices. How did mnemonics get their start?
Simonides of Ceos was a Greek poet in the sixth century B.C. As the story goes, he was asked to recite an ode at a nobleman's banquet. Simonides began his speech, as was customary, by thanking the gods – in this case Pollux and Castor, twins who were later transformed into the constellation Gemini. But the nobleman did not appreciate sharing the limelight with the gods. Simonides would get half of his fee, the nobleman said, and if he wanted the rest he could ask the gods themselves to pay him. Shortly afterwards, Simonides was called out of the room. Two men were supposedly at the door to see him. He went to the door but no one was there. While he was away, the banquet room collapsed, killing everyone. So perhaps Simonides had indeed been paid by the gods? That was the end of the story – or not. The bodies of the dead people were so mangled they were unrecognizable. Simonides, however, was able to call on his visual memory to remember where each person had been sitting and was able to identify everyone.
This is how mnemonics was born. The loci method, in this case. This technique is often used to remember a speech and works by creating a list of loci or places, associating an object to be remembered with each place, and then associating the objects with a subject or section of the speech. For example, if you want to remember a speech, you can create a list of places in the room where you will speak – the room's door, a window, a fireplace, a stairway. Then you associate an object with each part of your speech - a heart might represent the part about love. You then create an image assigning each object to one of your places: in this case, if you assign the heart to the fireplace you can create a mental image of the heart "warming" itself by the fireplace. Then when you give your speech, you could "walk" through the locations in the room, remember the corresponding objects, and be easily reminded of the correct section of your speech. This technique is also called a memory palace and is a staple at many memory competitions. The loci method is especially good for kinesthetic learners – those who learn by being physically active or doing things.
In its simplest definition, mnemonics is any learning method used to retain information – translating it into a form that the brain can more easily remember. The idea is that spatial, visual, personal, and even humorous methods are infinitely easier to recall than an abstract one. Mnemonics are most often used to memorize lists or numbers. Dates or even whole speeches can also be recalled this way. There are many different kinds of mnemonic devices:
Mnemonic devices can make information retention easier for students with learning disabilities; they can also assist elderly people with memory loss; and they can help anyone, really, who wants or needs to remember something.
As the short excerpt below illustrates, Alex from Ostrich, is really into mnemonics:
Every mnemonic I remember just reminds me of another slightly weirder mnemonic, with each one in turn taking me a step further away from the answer until the whole thing loops back on itself and starts again from the beginning like a snake eating its own tail: My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets to My Very Economical Mother Just Saved Us Nine Pencils to My Very Elegant Mother Just Sewed Us Nine Purses to My Very Edible Mother Just Shat Us Nine Pizzas to My Very Elephant Mother Just Sawed Us Nine Porpoises to My Very Endless Mother Just Sank Us Nine Pygmies to My Very Enema Mother Just Sand Us Nine Problem to My Very Egg Mother Just Syphilis Us Nine Probably...
Um, right. You can get carried away with mnemonics too.
Picture of the Greek poet, Simonides, from Frankaffe.com
By Tamara Smith
Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.
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