Category Archives: GSTBA 2010-2011 Reader Assignment

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

“The world was not divided into those who had it and those who did not.  This quality, this it, was never named…The idea was to prove…that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff.”

When NASA was formed in 1958, the pressure was on to beat the Russians in the space race.  A team was formed of seven male test jet pilots who were rigorously tested to determine whether they had the right stuff.  They were called the Mercury 7.  Apparently, the only people who could possibly have the right stuff were men…white men, at that.

Despite having taken over in traditional male jobs during World War II, by the late ’50s, women had been relegated once again to the home.  There was one man, though, who believed women might also have what it takes to be part of the astronaut program.  In fact, Randolph Lovelace not only thought that women have what it takes, but that in many respects, they would actually be more suited than men to become astronauts.  He began secretly testing exceptional women pilots in order to test his theory.  The first subject?  Jerri Cobb.

Jerri Cobb was put through the same grueling physical, psychological and technical tests the Mercury 7 men had been through.  She passed with flying colors and with fewer complaints than the men.  Lovelace gathered 12 other accomplished female pilots to continue his testing but was shut down before he could finish.  There was a lot of opposition to the idea of women in space and sadly, these 13 women faced discrimination and prejudice that prevented them from realizing their dreams. 

Stone paints a fabulous portrait of the political and social mood of the nation as Cobb and the other women struggled to have the same opportunites their male counterparts had.  From the demanding tests required to become an astronaut to the testimonies in the courtroom, Stone takes gives us wonderfully rich details that will make you feel like you know these women and makes you want to root for them all the more. 

If you know your history, you know the “almost astronauts” didn’t ever make it into space.  But their courageous and resilient spirits did so much to pave the way for women like Sally Ride, Eileen Collins and others who have come later.  A truly touching and amazing story.

Other reviews at Bookends and Challenging the Bookworm.

Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone
Nonfiction | 144 pages | February 2009 | Candlewick | 0763645028 | Audiobook – library copy

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So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow

Ari Abramson’s life thus far has been lived in the shadows.  The shadow of his super popular, ultra cool best friend Jonas Fein, the shadow of his parents ambitions for him to attend Brandeis University upon graduation, the shadow of…non-existence.  But his junior year at Gittleman, a Jewish day school in North Jersey, is going to be different.  This year he has a Plan to get noticed.

The Plan is to start a band.  What quicker way is there from nobody to superstar?  After some negotiation and conniving, the Tribe is born.  There’s Jonas, lead singer and bassist and provider of charm;  Yossi, the uber religious nerd drummer; Reena, Yossi’s younger indie sister on back-up vocals; and of course, Ari, lead guitarist and (hopefully) songwriter extraordinaire. Despite their differences and a few minor setbacks, this definitely-not-Motley crew has potential.  Ari soon finds himself navigating the tricky waters of popularity.  In this alternate universe, Ari gets noticed by long-time crush, Sari; becomes an idol to little brother, Ben; and must deal with mounting tension in his friendship with Jonas.  So punk rock?  Maybe…not.

In this prose/graphic novel blend, we follow the Tribe’s rise to high school stardom and Ari’s journey to self-discovery.  So Punk Rock is a quirky, humorous read with a realistic voice, even if that meant at times the prose is awkward and sentence structure is non-existent.  I would have no trouble recommending it to a reluctant reader.

(I read this for the Garden State Teen Book Awards 2012 ballot and even though it was a fun read, I’m not sure it ranks among other stronger works of literature.)

So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow
Young Adult | 264 pages | July 2009 | Flux | 0738714712 | Library copy

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Filed under Book Reviews, GSTBA 2010-2011 Reader Assignment, Young Adult Literature

We Were Here by Matt de la Pena (2009)

“Your whole life, man, it can change in one minute.” (p. 99)

No one knows this better than Miguel. One day he’s living with his mom and brother, Diego, in their Stockton California home and the next he’s in a group home with a bunch of stupid guys and a surfer dude counselor, Jaden, who keeps trying to talk to him about what happened. But Miguel can’t talk about what happened. Not with Jaden; not with anyone. After getting in a fight with the skinny, bald dude named Mong, Miguel decides to steer clear of everyone in the house. He is completely and utterly alone.

When he awakes one night to find Mong standing over his bed, Miguel is surprised by Mong’s request. He wants Miguel to run away with him to Mexico. At first Miguel is hesitant, but he soon realizes he has nothing to live for anymore, and therefore nothing to lose. Miguel’s roommate, Rondell, joins their motley crew of fugitives.

“People always think there’s this huge hundred-foot-high barrier that separates doing good from doing bad. But there’s not. There’s nothing. There’s not even a little anthill. You just take one baby step in any direction and you’re already there. You’ve done something awful. And your life is changed forever.” (p. 119)

What follows is a compelling, at times existential, story about 3 boys struggling to deal with the lots they’ve been dealt. Even though Miguel, Mong and Rondell are considered criminals, the circumstances they’ve had to face are more difficult than most people would deal with in a lifetime. It was difficult for me to get into the book at first, but as time went on, I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper into Miguel’s world. He is a complex character (though I found his voice inconsistent at times) who has done a horrible thing but is not a horrible person-although he doesn’t figure this out until the end of the book. We Were Here is about mistakes, consequences, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

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Filed under Book Reviews, GSTBA 2010-2011 Reader Assignment, Young Adult Literature