A Wild, YA Double-Dip Review: Chronicling Dementia and Obesity…

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Today I have a diary-ish Double-Dip for you, with two very different social issues discussed from the point of view of teenagers past and present.  We received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Let’s settle down with a memorable and/or healthy snack and check them out.

First up, we have The Dementia Diaries: A Novel in Cartoons by Matthew Snyman and the Social Innovations Lab, Kent.  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Brie’s Granddad has always been a serious man, never without a newspaper and knowing the answer to everything. But now he keeps losing track of the conversation, and honestly, Brie doesn’t really know how to speak to him. At first, Fred was annoyed that Gramps had come to live with them, it meant he had to give up his room! But then he starts to enjoy watching old films with him and spending time together… although there’s the small problem of Gramps calling him Simon.

Follow the stories of Brie, Fred, and other young carers as they try to understand and cope with their grandparents’ dementia at all stages of the illness. Adapted from true stories, and supplemented with fun activities and discussion ideas, this book for children aged approximately 7-14 cuts to the truth of the experience of dementia and tackles stigma with a warm and open perspective.

Dip into it for…dementia diaries

A highly engaging and light-hearted read that sheds some light on a major health issue around the world, from the perspective of youngsters living with a relative who has dementia.  The book is structured to reflect the progression of the disease, from the early stages, through the diagnosis, and what happens when the patient can no longer be looked after in their own home.  The young people’s illustrated stories are accessible and demonstrate the range of emotions, challenges and changes that the family experiences when trying to support a family member with dementia.  Each chapter also suggests further tasks, research and discussion questions, making this a perfect resource for the classroom.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for an in-depth exploration of how supporting a person with dementia affects a young person psychologically.  The stories related here are intended to be a teaching tool and point of access for young readers to get a glimpse into what might be expected when caring for a family member with dementia.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is a clever method of providing young people with information on a relevant topic in an enjoyable and non-confrontational way.  The different experiences of the diarists are perfect conversation starters and allow young people who may be feeling alone in their situation to realise that many others face similar challenges and have similar emotions about the changes happening for their loved one.  More than that however, the book is simply an interesting, fun and touching read, regardless of whether or not one has experience with the illness and its affects.

Next up, we have a bit of historical narrative non-fiction with My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…),My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England.

mad fat diary

Dip into it for…

…some of the greatest, angsty, rhyming teen poetry ever seen.  There were echoes of Adrian Mole in this amusing foray back to the eighties, except Rae is obviously a lot smarter and more insightful than fictional Adrian.  Some parts – such as the name-calling from random strangers and friends alike – are quite hard to read and other parts are simply quite funny.  This being a North American edition of the book, there is also a glossary of sorts in the front, explaining all the British terms that our friends across the Pond might not be familiar with.  For me, this was the funniest part of the whole reading experience as I imagined confused Americans flicking back to the glossary to decipher Rae’s cryptic ramblings.  Adrian Mole art imitating life indeed!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a reading experience that involves enormous changes in the diarist by the end of the tome.  One of the problems of diaries is that much of the change recorded happen little by little, and by our very habitual nature, much of the content becomes repetitive after a while.

Overall Dip Factor:

Rae is a supremely relatable narrator and her anguish and triumphs and daily struggles will be recognisable to teens of today as well as those of us who were there the first time around.  It will no doubt be quite an eye-opener for youngsters of today to note that Rae has to use the phone booth down the street because her mother won’t get a phone at home! Overall, this is an absorbing read in parts and generally a humorous jaunt into the mind of a teenager on the outer.

Until next time,

Bruce

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A Kidlit, Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Nonfiction 2015Today’s book is aimed at a young audience but fascinated me all the same, what with me being so young at heart and all that. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a concise history of the events leading up to the imprisonment of Mary Mallon as a “healthy carrier” of typhoid who inadvertently spread the disease to many of the households in which she worked as a cook. Before I picked this one up, I knew absolutely nothing about Typhoid Mary, beyond being familiar with the name. After reading, I feel I have been much enlightened and am slightly chagrined (and mildly disappointed, admittedly) to discover that most of my assumptions were utterly wrong.

I am also submitting this one in the Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

Let’s crack on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What happens when a person’s reputation has been forever damaged?

With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon by the Sibert medalist and Newbery Honor winner Susan Bartoletti looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary’s controversial life. How she was treated by medical and legal officials reveals a lesser-known story of human and constitutional rights, entangled with the science of pathology and enduring questions about who Mary Mallon really was. How did her name become synonymous with deadly disease? And who is really responsible for the lasting legacy of Typhoid Mary?

This thorough exploration includes an author’s note, timeline, annotated source notes, and bibliography.

typhoid mary

Five Things I’ve Learned From…

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

  1. If a woman walks like a man, it is likely she is hiding a deadly secret, according to the learned opinions of sanitary officials of Mary’s day.
  2. If you find yourself inexplicably transported to the time before electric refrigeration, declining the dessert menu might save your life as well as your waistline.
  3. Much like today, the popular media of the past was a great means for spreading unfounded hysteria, misinformation and fear-mongering yet catchy nicknames.
  4. Mary may not have actually been the deadliest cook in America, but one of a (not very hygienically washed) handful of such cooks
  5. Even if you have been labelled the deadliest cook in America, there will always be some people who are happy to eat your baked goods.

As narrative nonfiction books for youngsters go, this is a surprisingly engaging tale that attempts to look behind the scandalous headlines and get to the crux of Mary Mallon and her role in inadvertently spreading disease through her role as a cook for well-off households. The early chapters read a bit like a detective story as health officials attempt to find the cause of an outbreak of typhoid within a prominent family. I was drawn in from the start and the first half of the book had me guessing and deducing along with George Soper, a sanitation engineer with big dreams of unmasking the first “healthy carrier’ of typhoid in America.

I appreciated the way in which the author looked at the “chase” from Mary’s point of view. It was very easy to sympathise with her when, out of the blue from her perspective, a strange man turns up at her door telling her she is spreading a deadly disease and demanding she provide samples of bodily fluids. It was not hard to picture Mary’s aggressive response to such an approach.

The second half of the book, which concentrates on Mary’s imprisonment on a hospital island for years at a time, moves at a much slower pace than the first half and takes a more in-depth look at the legal rights of Mary and the government orders that kept her from release. The competing forces of individual rights and protection of the public are discussed at length as the author points out other cases (the “Typhoid Tom, Dick and Harries” as I thought of them) of people who were known to be healthy carriers responsible for infecting others, but who weren’t imprisoned.

I will admit to being slightly disappointed that the story behind the headlines was reasonably dry and based in legality. I was hoping (and feel free to think of me as a scurrilous rascal if you like) for a real humdinger of a tale in which a murderous and downtrodden servant deliberately brought low the upper classes before trip-trapping off to do it again in another unsuspecting city.

Instead, the author has created a very readable biography in which the characters spring off the page and the inconsistencies in the treatment of Mary in comparison to others in her situation allow the reader to get an insight into why Mary might have behaved in the way she did. Based on this experience, I would be very interested in reading more nonfiction by Bartoletti in the future, and I would recommend this to scientifically-minded youngsters and as a great conversation starter for classes learning about public health or individual rights.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 9/10

Until next time,

Bruce