Monthly Archives: January 2016

Identifying Gen Jer

10 years ago today, some long forgotten office minion processed my paperwork and I officially joined Generation Joshua. Little did they know! Actually, little did I know. It is impossible to imagine the past ten years without Generation Joshua. I can’t even imagine the past year without it, and I have been “graduated” for quite some time. Gen J influenced every part of my life. It provided friends, mentors, and answers during the tumultuous years of teenhood, and the early chaos of college. Even now, as I begin my career, I find I owe an unpayable debt to the organization that provided me with vision and experience before I realized I would need either.

I used to tell people, in a rush of words so fast most listeners gave up trying to understand, “Generation Joshua is an organization that gets young people, ages 11 to 19, involved in civics and government. It is awesome. But, you know, it does so much more.”  

Generation Joshua taught me a lot of things. I did everything offered: camps, clubs, conferences, the chat room, book clubs, the Benjamin Rush Awards, Student Action Teams, and later the Leadership Corps. Above all, though, I spent my teen years on the Generation Joshua forums. All those things, but especially the forums, taught me some important truths about life.

I learned…my teen years were a blessing.

Even before my teenage years began I wanted them to be over. I carried a vague notion that all teenagers had boyfriends, wore skimpy clothes, and did drugs. No matter how desperately my Mom pointed out perfectly ordinary and well behaved teenagers, I refused to believe it. I knew what was up. Nothing good came of turning 13! The teenagers on the Generation Joshua forums quickly disabused me of that notion. These students were intelligent, funny, and friendly. They discussed everything from relationships to current events to coffee! Sometimes they goofed off; sometimes they were serious. For me, it was all amazing. I learned the teenage years did not automatically mean delinquency and rebellion. It could be a wonderful time for growth and friendship.

I learned…online friendships last.

Because so many of my friendships began online, they continue to thrive online today. The neat thing about being an adult is that nowadays I get to travel and visit people in person. However, for many years I could have passed my closest friends on the street and not of known them. It made for the most awkward conversations! “My friend Dr. Black, well, I’ve never met him, but anyway he said…” or “Coolweather and I were e-mailing and we think…” Gen Jers learned to be very creative. My friends Tori (CatCrazy), Lydia (LidBiz) and I started an online girls’ bible study using a chat room and blog. It was a wonderful experience, spread across many time zones. Tori lived in Montana and Lydia in Senegal, Africa. We were joined by girls in California, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. Today, I still consider both girls dear friends. Whether through the forums, Facebook, or even “real life”, my friendship with Gen Jers last a great deal in part because we first learned to be friends far away.

I learned…my voice mattered.

Once upon a time I caught sight of the first post I ever wrote, and it made me want to cry. The spelling, the grammar, the content! I flinch to think of it. But you know what I remember even more clearly than the post? I remember TexasCowboy and Pippin welcoming me to the forums and engaging with what I had to say. That meant a lot to me. I also learned that I could put action behind my words via the Student Action Teams and iGovern Camps. Not everyone finds spending a week of grassroots campaigning fun, however it was the highlight of my year. I couldn’t vote, but I could act. I learned I could make a difference, even at age 14.

I learned…disagreement is okay.

God bless all the moderators who kept an eye on us on the forums! They eventually shut down the Civil War thread because it got so heated. Place two opinionated teenagers together and you are bound to have some conflict, add a whole bunch of them to an online forum and you’re begging for it. Heated discussion is not always a bad thing, though. It sharpens arguments and provides a broader point of view. I learned a lot by simply reading the back and forth of others. I saw that you could be friends with people you disagreed with.

I learned…God answers prayer.

The statement almost sounds trite, but it meant a great deal to me in high school. Before I ever heard of Generation Joshua, I begged God for friends like me. I didn’t want a robot…but someone who shared my interests. And God provided. A few years later, I prayed again, this time for closer friends. Not long after, I got to travel to Generation Joshua camp with Danielle (jcfreak) and Sara (Lightning). It was wonderful to have the friends in person and online! Being a part of Generation Joshua grew me spiritually. I saw God’s hand at work in so many ways. I saw faith in the students around me, in the counselors and leaders at camp, in the discussion on the forums. I saw pain and hurt and brokenness. And I learned that God worked in it all, that He was not an afterthought but the very foundation.

Most of all I learned…I was not alone.

There were teenagers like me. People who loved learning. People who paid attention to politics. People who read like crazy. C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, “Friendship…is born at the moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one…’” Indeed, I thought I was the only one. And then one momentous day, on January 6th, I joined something greater, where I learned I was not alone. Generation Joshua was so much more.

This is a thank you. I have written many before, but I can only repeat my words again. Thank you to those Gen Jers who were older than me, who mentored and offered me friendship when I first joined. Thank you to my peers, the Gen Jers my age who remain some of my closest friends. Thank you to all the kids who have come after me, it is a delight watching you discover the same thing I did. That you are not alone.

Most of all, thank you to the leaders of Generation Joshua. When I first joined, that meant Ned Ryun. Then Douglas Price. Then Will Estrada. Now, Joel Grewe. Thank you to all the leaders like Jeremiah Lorrig, Lucas Mason, and Michael Zeller. Thank you to my SAT leaders, Noah Oberlander and James Flath. Thank you to the parents who helped get the club going in Wisconsin, people like Mrs. Aguilar, Pastor Andy, and my Dad. I would never have discovered Generation Joshua without The First Generation Joshua Club of Wisconsin. Thank you for all the people who have engaged and mentored and spoke into the lives of the Gen J community. There are countless names I could mention. I have only named a few of the ones most involved while I was a teenager. What you all do cannot be quantified in words. I am ever grateful for the role you all have played in my life.

I hope every teenager has the opportunity to find a place where they discover they are not alone. Generation Joshua was that for me. Thank you, Gen J, for helping shape me into the woman I am today.  

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The Fault In Our Chick Lit: My 1 Star Reads from 2015

While two stars may imply mediocrity, one star remains unequivocally not worth the time. With some of these, though, I probably should have known better!

Steamed by Jessica Conant-Park

Believe it or not, there is not a single likable character in this entire book. The plot promises an intelligent grad student who uses dates to get the gourmet food she loves…until one day her date shows up dead. Don’t believe it. Basically, (1) there is a grad student, and (2) someone ends up dead. Eventually. It took forever for anything interesting to happen. The main character (who I really, really, REALLY hated) spends the entire book whining about her life and blundering about, hampering more than helping the police. This “culinary mystery chick-lit” fails every category.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

Foolishly I decided to give Eva Ibbotson another try. Never again! Done right, this might have been a beautiful, romantic story intertwining music, paleontology, and Vienna, Austria. Instead it descends into a Freudian case study. I hated the last quarter of the book. I hated the Mary Sue main character and the womanizing hero. I hated the love triangle. Basically, I hated this book.

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Perhaps the most interesting of my failed reads this year, No One Else Can Have You certainly caused quite a controversy on Goodreads. The author basically stalked readers who gave her books bad reviews. However, that is not the reason I gave this book a lousy rating. It earns its one star by simply being really, really bad. The plot takes place in “Friendship” Wisconsin, but all dialogue sounds like it comes from fake Minnesotans. The lingo was atrocious and many “native phrases” like bubbler get shoved in at the most random moments.  It is a dark comedy that is not in the least bit funny. No One Else Can Have You was crude, crass, and warped. Avoid

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

A retelling of Shahrzad and the Thousand and One Nights that bored me to tears. I skim/skipped entire sections of pointless POV. The book exemplifies almost every modern trope in YA literature, including the usual favorites: insta-love, the ever present love triangle, and a cliff-hanger-who-needs-resolution-anyway ending.  As the tale of Shahrzad is one of my favorites, I hoped for a cool spin off. Unfortunately, this one did not live up to the hype!

Love Letters and A Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde

I don’t expect much from chick-lit. I really don’t. But I don’t think I have ever read anything in any genre as bad as these two books. They were atrocious. The writing, the plot, the characters were all terrible. The author continually tells, tells, and tells without any showing. Dialogue is long-winded and awkward. There are entire chapters that are unnecessary. Characters burn with insta-lust yet have zero chemistry. These books managed to cut through my boredom by being so bad I was left with nothing but wrath.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

While not 5 star material, the Finishing School series had been playing out nicely. I was thrilled to find steampunk done right! Then Waistcoats & Weaponry came on the scene and managed to alienate me from Every. Single. Character. The plot was confusing and hard to follow. The story wasn’t particularly clever or funny and rapidly descended into crude jokes. It was both tasteless and utterly boring. In fact, this one was so atrocious I advise avoiding the entire series.

The Princess of Cortova by Diane Stanley

Speaking of series gone wrong, few books disappointed me more this past year than The Princess of Cortova. I loved the first two books in the trilogy (The Silver Bowl and The Cup and the Crown). This third installment, however, fell short in every way. Part of the problem was that I apparently missed a super-big love triangle prevalent in the past two books! The fallout with the characters threw me for a loop. And that was small compared to everything else that went wrong. Gone is the intrepid heroine who faces the world with only her ready wit and quick fists. She wanders around the book moaning and groaning and rehashing things the reader already knows with a cat. There is sacrifice but it is so senseless it ceases to be meaningful. Characters are faced with deep dilemmas but rarely face true consequences (unless they are very Bad Baddies, of course). Overall, a disappointing book.

Summer Lovin’ by Carly Phillips

I flinch even remembering I read this book. ‘Horribly written’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. The author rarely says something once. She physically bludgeons the reader by repeating the same things over and over, creating hundreds of unnecessary pages. The novel drags through the characters’ insta-lust and contrived emotional upheaval only to shove a bunch of random conflict into the end. Despite what the description hinted, this was not a cute variation of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Awful characters and awful writing, I recommend avoiding anything by this author. 

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A complete disappointment. The secular humanist worldview and Freudian philosophy quickly alienated me.  The plot, characters, and writing were mediocre. It was impossible to empathize with the main character. Not worth the time.

Confessions Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Though I no longer consider myself a hardcore Janite, I appreciate the occasional dip into the creative and often bizarre world of the Jane Austen fandom. Confessions Of A Jane Austen Addict tells the story of a 21st century “Austen Addict” who wakes up in Regency England. Unfortunately, the heroine immediately spends the next 200+ pages whining about everything. Between random third wave feminist rants, she throws herself at most men and moans incessantly that she isn’t married. This woman is not a Janite. She is a fan of Colin Firth in tight breeches. I do wish authors would realize there is a difference.

Out On A Limb by Shirley Maclaine

Read while researching transcendentalism for an assignment my final semester of college.  Worth noting only because of how unbelievably bad it was. Between endless (and unnecessary) reminiscences about her affair with a British politician, Maclaine discusses her beliefs ranging from reincarnation to extraterrestrial life. Frankly, I found it a load of crap.

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Being a big fan of the Australian TV show Miss Fisher’s Murders Mysteries, I was delighted to discover the book series. Now I can only say I am glad I discovered them after the show or I never would have watched it. The book contains all the show’s worse qualities without any of the redeeming elements. On top of that, the writing is awful and Detective-Inspector Jack Robinson isn’t a romantic lead. Why bother?

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Once again, an excellent example of chick lit gone bad. I am not looking for high quality in my fluff, but I do expect some levels of decency. Besides containing one of the most stupid heroines in literature, Remember Me? litters its pages with language and “more discussion of sex than a boys locker room.” (Thank you random Goodreads reviewer for the apt analogy.) Basically, a comedic rip off of The Vow that fails to be funny, romantic, or even semi-interesting.

The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I really should just stop reading Jennifer E. Smith. I have yet to find one worth the time. In her defense, they are easy reading. However, by easy I mean mindless and horrendously boring. The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight probably gets the award for the most boring book I finished this year. Do you know what is more miserable than a six hour flight from America to England? That would be reading about a six hour flight from America to England. Throw in two whiny, ungrateful teenagers who do nothing but complain about their parents and make puppy dog eyes at each other and you have this book.


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The Silver Bowl and The Cup and Crown by Diane Stanley

I have mixed feelings mentioning these two. I loved them. The Silver Bowl was adorable, full of danger, wicked curses, a hint of romance, and evil family members. In short, everything a good fantasy novel should have. Its sequel, The Cup and Crown, only adds to the adventure. Our heroine has come of age and now stands out as a butt-kicking, name-taking, epic young lady of magical proportion. It concludes with an ending just bitter-sweet enough to give some emotional pull. And then…the third book happened. I hated it so much I gave it one star. (You will have to read my One Star post to find out why!) So I’m not really sure what to tell you to do with these. Either read just these two and miss one third of the story, or read two excellent fantasy novels and weep as you finish the third, or only read the first because it kind of can stand alone.

The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

I waited much too long to read these excellent books. Both are short and profound. They are philosophically challenging and will take many re-reads to fully grasp. The Abolition of Man masterfully summarize the importance of universal values for societies. The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell and the decisions people make when confronted with them.  I cannot praise Lewis adequately enough so I’ll leave this one short and sweet. Go read them.

5 To 1 by Holly Bodger

The plot takes place in 2054, where India is suffering from an immense gender gap. There are 5 boys to every 1 girl. Tired of being sold to the highest bidder, women in India split from the government and form their own country where boys must compete in a series of tests to “win” a wife. The plot flips between the poetry of Sudasa, the girl to be won, and the prose of Contestant 5, who only wants to escape. On the one hand, it is an emotionally appealing and brief (250 page) story that succeeds where most dystopian novels fail because it doesn’t try too hard. There is no insta-love or cliff-hanger ending leading to multiple, pointless sequels. On the other hand, it is also a serious message about elevating one gender over the other, and the danger of valuing sons over daughters or vice versa. Good truths wrapped in a beautiful little YA novel.

Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis

The inspiring true story of Katie, an average American teenager who discovered a passion for Uganda. A single mission trip quickly became a life calling for 18-year-old Katie, who returned after graduating and ended up adopting 14 girls. This book is inspiring and encouraging. Katie’s passion and joy comes through the pages, and I found myself helplessly grinning as I read it! This is a woman who has found her calling and it is beautiful to behold.  

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

A brilliant addition to the world of well-told stories. I Am Princess X is a pink and purple book that tells the story Libby and May: the dynamic duo. Best friends since 5th grade, they were co-creators of Princess X, a katana-weilding, ghost defeating princess of their imagination. Libby drew the comics, May wrote the plots, and Princess X made them the perfect trio. Until Libby died in an accident at age 13. Three years later, only May is left. Until one day she sees a Princess X sticker on a building. Then graffitied on a wall. And again on a backpack. Princess X is everywhere, made popular by an online webcomic. Only two people knew about Princess X, and one of them is dead. Or is she? This book is full of convenient coincidences and implausible moments but it really is one of my favorites from this year. It is a fairy tale and a thriller and a story of friendship with a superhero feel. Bad Guys are Bad and Good Intentions save the day. What more could you want?

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing is a riveting story with a double mystery and an unreliable narrator. Maud can’t remember. She knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, she wrote it down. However, no one believes her, not her daughter, her caretaker, or the police. But Elizabeth is missing. Or is it Maud’s sister, Sukey, who is gone? The years get mixed up for Maud – a woman with dementia – as she recalls the mysterious disappearance of her older sister. Except now it is her friend, Elizabeth, who has disappeared and no one will listen! A very well written mystery that simultaneously echoes the frustration of growing old and the hardship of caring for an aging parent.

Feeling Sorry For Cecelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors. Feeling Sorry For Cecelia follows a teenage girl named Elizabeth and the struggle she feels losing her best friend, Cecelia. However it is not told in the usual way. The plot is laid out in notes between Elizabeth and her mother, letters with her pen-pal, postcards from her best friend, and occasional letters from her self-esteem. It is very well done. The book handles serious issues (divorced parents, changing friendships, relationships, etc.) but does so in a funny, wry style that kept the story bitter-sweet instead of just plain depressing. The book is peppered with a variety of wonderful, quirky characters. PG13 for content, but well worth it if you’re looking for a solid YA read.