Monthly Archives: November 2018

Guest Post Alert: A Long Way to Go on Gun Violence

A week ago today, we woke up to news of another mass shooting — this time at a California bar where it had been college night. It had only been eleven days since eleven people were shot and killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Photo credit: Yassine El Mansouri

In a rush of emotion, I wrote about my experience seeing a staged production of Jason Reynolds’ YA verse novel LONG WAY DOWN. I am grateful for this book and others — like David Barclay Moore’s THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET — which look not only at violence, but at the underlying culture that celebrates and inculcates it, especially among boys. Especially among boys of color.

I’m grateful to Nerdy Book Club for giving me the space to process what I saw on stage and share it with you. And to my friend Susan Hobby for coming with me to see the production. And to Jason Reynolds, of course, for this book, which everyone should read.

You will find my guest post, “A Long Way to Go on Gun Violence,” here.

Barb Langridge Reviews Takedown

This thoughtful review of my middle grade novel Takedown comes from former Howard County, MD librarian Barb Langridge.

Barb is the founder of the website A Book and a Hug, which I wrote about in a post for All the Wonders a few years ago: “Discover Your Reading Personality: A Book and a Hug.”

***

Two words for you: Middle School. There’s a lot going on in middle school. These are those turbulent bridge years filled with insecurity and peer pressure when childhood friendships start tearing apart and you’re trying to understand who you are as an individual at the same time you’re wanting so desperately to belong and fit in.

Told in alternating points of view, this is a white water rafting ride through the eyes of two champion kids who are dealing with some real-life struggles, some happening unseen inside of them and some in the glaring spotlight of life in the hallways of their school. These are kids who are figuring it out for themselves and showing their real strength as they take themselves to the mats.

Mickey (given name Mikayla) is the youngest daughter in a family with two big brothers all successful wrestlers. She lives with her mother and her older brother Cody while her oldest brother, Evan, a state champion wrestler, has chosen to live with their father. She is following in the Delgado family tradition which means not going to the dances, not being part of the Thriller act in the school talent show with her best friend and instead choosing to win in the Thanksgiving wrestling tournament.

Mickey and her best friend are about to begin wrestling at the middle school level. But when Mickey goes to join the team her brothers always wrestled for, the coach tells her, “No girls allowed.” When Mickey finds another team that will allow the girls to wrestle, her best friend says she isn’t coming along this year.

Lev has wrestled for years. He has a goal this year and that is out wrestle and defeat Nick Spence, the guy who beat him on the mats last year and is using that win to taunt and bully.

Nick Spence: “Ask your girlfriend.”

Lev Sofer: “At least I’m not afraid to wrestle her.”

Lev is starting to get headaches. He’s struggling with himself and what he really wants to do and who he really wants to be. He’s struggling with “being a boy in middle school, always trying to measure up to the other guys who brag about football and lacrosse, who’d rather get the girls to flirt with them than get good grades.”

Turns out Mickey and Lev are going to be wrestling partners. A boy and a girl facing each other every day on the mat, practicing holds, wearing the team-issued singlet, dealing with the teasing at school from Nick and some of their own teammates.

What do you do when you’re a girl and the best team for you is all boys and won’t let you join? What do you do when your father doesn’t see you through the same lens he uses to see his two sons? What do you do when your best friend changes? What do you do when you’ve always thought the most important thing in life was to win a state championship?

What do you do when something inside of you changes and the things you thought were important to you, the things you thought defined you and gave you your identity, don’t matter to you anymore?

Read the rest of the review here.

***

I am so grateful when a reader like Barb takes the time to write a review. Her insights into the book’s themes and characters are spot on.

Thank you, Barb!

Takedown: Bonus Scene!

Welcome, readers and fans of Takedown.

I have something special to share with you — an extra scene from the book!

This road trip mini-chapter takes place at the end of Chapter 30, when Lev is taking a week off from wrestling. Go to the end of page 212 (in hardcover editions), and you’ll find the spot where this scene begins.

This was one of my favorite sections to write, because it’s set at the ocean. I love the Maryland and Delaware beaches and it was fun to imagine Lev there. However, sometimes authors have to cut or edit down parts of a book that they love if they don’t move the story forward. Do you think that’s true of this scene?

You’ll find some discussion questions about this scene at the bottom of the page.

***

CHAPTER 30 BONUS MATERIAL

It’s the strangest week of my life. When I’m at school, or if Bryan’s free, everything is great. Bryan, Emma, Marisa, and I get permission to eat lunch in the media center so we can work on our mythology projects. It’s still warm enough to play basketball or ride bikes after school. But after dinner, I don’t have anything to do. I get my homework done and delete texts from Mickey. I don’t know what to say to her, so I say nothing. I watch the History Channel, then go to bed early.

I don’t even want to open my wrestling notebook, because then I’ll have to ask myself who I am. The kid who writes poetry, who thinks it’s not worth it to fight? Or the athlete, working to show everyone that I’m the best because—win or lose—I tried my hardest. I’m still not sure. What I do know is I’m a better friend since I stopped wrestling, at least to Bryan and Emma.

***

There’s no school on Friday because it’s the end of the quarter. I am already up and dressed when Dalia comes downstairs to make herself coffee.

“I’m taking Lev to the mall,” she announces.

Mom looks up from her crossword. “You are?”

Dalia grabs me in an awkward one-armed hug. “We both need to get out of the house.”

What is my sister plotting?

Mom puts down her pencil, ready to protest. “You want to take your brother to the mall?”

“For lunch and a movie.”

Mom bites the eraser end of her pencil.

“Look,” Dalia says. “I know I’m not the kind of big sister you want me to be. I hate babysitting. I’m not some kind of teenage life coach. And I’m not planning on giving Lev my big book of tips on how to survive high school.”

Mom opens her mouth to speak, but Dalia stops her.

“All this Evan stuff. Lev looked up to him. He’s been almost as upset as I am.”

I gape at my sister. Dalia noticed that?

Mom puts down her pencil. Then she gets up and fishes two twenty-dollar bills out of her purse. She hands the money to Dalia. “Be back in time for dinner,” she says.

Dalia rushes me out the door before Mom can change her mind.

“The mall?” I ask.

“I lied.”

I follow my sister to Mom’s minivan. “So where are we really going?”

“The beach.”

The beach is more than two hours away. Plus, it’s January. “We’re going to freeze.”

“Trust me,” she says, pulling out of the driveway. “A road trip is what we need.”

Normally, Dalia is a radio tyrant. If she’s driving, she picks the music. But she puts me in charge of the radio as we drive past Annapolis, over the Bay Bridge, and through the Eastern Shore to Ocean City.

This moment in the scene is set at Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli in Ocean City, MD.

By the time we get there, it’s almost noon. Dalia takes me for lunch at a Jewish deli along Route 1. She has matzo ball soup. I order a bagel and lox with cream cheese. It comes with capers and lemon, the way Sabba made it for us the last time he and Safta visited from Israel.

“Aren’t we going to the boardwalk?” I ask when Dalia turns out of the restaurant, heading away from the shops and hotels of Ocean City.

“Too touristy,” she says.

I don’t point out that it’s too cold out for tourists.

She adds, “It’s emptier at Fenwick. No shops by the ocean. Just beach.”

It has been two weeks since I went to Evan’s dual meet. Dalia hasn’t missed a day of school. She hasn’t skipped a field hockey practice. Since that first night, she’s been acting like nothing is wrong. But today her face sags. She’s pulled her hair into a bun instead of taking the time to braid it. And she isn’t wearing makeup. Not even that pink stuff she always smears on her lips.

Dalia looks away from the road for a second and sees me staring. “What?” she says.

“Nothing.”

We pass empty road-side amusement parks and more mini golf places than I can count: aliens and pirates, dinosaurs with their long necks craning toward the road, their paint as dull and faded as the sky. As we drive north, shops get cheesier and more run down.

Dalia parks in a row of empty spaces near some sand dunes. From the back seat, she grabs a grocery bag full of hats, scarves, and gloves. She takes a thick blanket out of the trunk and hands me the bag.

“Put these on,” she says. “It’s going to be cold. And windy.” She puts on dark sunglasses, even though it’s not sunny.

The beach is empty. Dalia lays out a blanket and sits, wrapping her arms around her knees. What else is there to do but sit next to her?

“I don’t get it,” I say. “Why’d we come all the way out here?”

“Shh.”

We sit together, watching the breakers and not talking. It feels like the ocean is washing away all the meanness between me and Dalia. The time I knocked her down, the names she’s called me, and all the times she’s rolled her eyes at me. That stuff doesn’t seem important when it’s just the two of us and the ocean.

“We don’t really know each other well, Lev,” Dalia says. “You’re always wrestling and I’m at field hockey. Even when you were a baby, I was already in kindergarten. We didn’t have time together like some brothers and sisters do, messing around with Play-Doh and stuff.”

I never thought about it that way, but she’s right. Dalia and I hardly ever did things together, even when we were small. We’re sitting close, but not touching. I lean against her arm.

“Why are you always so worried about what I’m going to say?” Dalia asks.

“I guess I want you to like me.”

“Of course I like you.”

“Not the kind you do because I’m your brother.”

“Oh. You want to be friends.” She turns and smiles at me. “Isn’t that why I brought you here?” Dalia picks up a handful of sand and lets it run through her fingers. “Kids at school keep asking me questions. ‘Did Evan ever hurt you? Did you know he was violent.’”

I nod. “They were talking trash about him at wrestling practice.”

Dalia gets up and brushes the sand off her jeans. I shake out the blanket. We stand together, staring at the breakers.

“To be honest, I didn’t want to drive out here by myself. Everyone’s so caught up in whether Evan meant to hurt that kid or not. They forget that he’s a good person. Most of the time, he’s a good person. You’re the only person who gets it, Lev.”

I tuck the blanket under my elbow and put my other arm around Dalia’s shoulders. We are almost the same height. Dalia tugs the edge of her hoodie’s sleeve out of her coat and wipes her eyes.

“You ready to go?” I ask.

“Yeah. I’ll grab some coffee on our way back. Hot chocolate for you.” She shoves me, but she’s smiling. “You may be almost as tall as me, but you’re not ready for coffee yet.”

When we get to the car, Dalia says, “Thanks, Lev. I feel better. The ocean always makes me feel better.”

“What’ll we tell Mom?”

“That we had lunch, went to a movie walked around the mall.”

“Will she believe us?”

“She’ll be so glad we spent time together, I doubt she’ll ask too many questions.”

As usual, my sister is right.

***

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  • Most of Takedown takes place at Lev and Mickey’s homes, schools, and wrestling events. Why do you think this scene is set at the beach? Why does Dalia want to go to the beach, even though it’s winter.
  • Lev notices that he’s almost as tall as his sister. What does that symbolize?
  • How has Lev’s relationship with his sister changed from the beginning of Takedown?
  • Do you think it was a good idea to cut this scene from the novel? Why or why not?

I’d love to hear what you thought! Leave a comment or send me an email with notes from your discussion.