Richie's Picks: ADDIE ON THE INSIDE
- Richie's Picks: ADDIE ON THE INSIDE by James Howe, Atheneum, July 2011, 224p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-1384-9
"'In what ways do we devalue the English language?'
Mr. Daly asks a class of vacant faces and hidden,
texting hands. I shoot my hand into the air. Mr. D
smiles at me as he moves his eyes across the sullen
seventh-grade landscape. 'Does anyone other than
Addie have a thought on this? Does anyone know
what I mean by "devalue"?' Now my hand takes on
a life of it's own, wagging like an eager puppy. Me,
me, me, it whimpers as I try to ignore the snickering
"Snicker turn to sighs and groans and cries of Here
she goes. "It's when we use empty euphemisms,' I begin
(Jimmy Lemon mumbling, 'What's a youthanism?'),
'or overuse a word or phrase until it's meaningless.'
"'"Oh my god,"" I promptly reply, to which Becca replies
under her breath, 'Omigod.' 'Shouldn't that phrase
be saved for religious expression or an occasion
of great emotion? I contend' -- here Bobby, my
friend, drops his forehead into his waiting palm --
'that overuse of a word such as "like" or a phrase
such as the one I've just cited, devalues it. Another
example is -- '
"'Thank you, Addie. Let's
give someone else a chance, shall we?' Mr. D winks
at me as if we're in this together, and I sit down.
(Funny, I don't remember standing up.)
"Other hands are in the air now as Becca's hand
reaches across the aisle and slides a note under my
binder. I don't look at it until after class. 'You
need a makeover in more ways than one,' it says.
"Now she brushes past, her elbow bumping my shoulder.
'Omigod,' she says, 'so, like, sorry.' Other girls
giggle, and Jimmy Lemon coughs an insult into his
hand. 'You're not funny,' I tell them, tearing Becca's
note neatly down the middle. Bobby waits for me
as I gather up my books. He gives me a sympathetic
look, one that says he understands what it feels like
to be devalued."
Ten years. A decade. For today's middle school students, that's virtually a lifetime.
A decade ago this week, the world changed forever for all of us in our magnificent diversity who make up these United States of America.
As we were being raised up in the sixties and the seventies and beyond, we were all being indoctrinated with the notion that we Americans were the biggest, most powerful, and most untouchable nation in the history of humankind. And anyone from my neck of the woods knew that there was nowhere more truly American than the glorious chaos of New York City.
"And she's every girl you've seen in every movie
Every dame you've ever known on late night TV
In her steam and steel is the passion you feel
New York is a woman she'll make you cry
And to her you're just another guy."
Suzanne Vega, "New York is a Woman"
Whatever residual bits of that ancient indoctrination might still have then been lingering inside of me, they crumbled ten years ago this week just like the tangled masses of steel and glass that we watched fall to earth over and over and over again.
Please forgive me if you've heard my 9/11 story before. For the sake of those middle school students who have no recollection of 9/11, I'm going to tell it again:
Sitting at home in stunned silence on 9/11 and the days thereafter, I first sought out a community of friends in the hope of finding a measure of solace and meaning in the horrible tragedy. In those days, I belonged to a listserv composed of friends and fans of the folksinger Suzanne Vega. As the martial drumbeats sounded louder and louder, calling for retribution and revenge, I posted the lyrics to John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," and The Youngblood's "Get Together," and Peter's Alsop's "The Kids' Peace Song" and urged love and peace as I had been taught by those who wrote the soundtrack of my childhood.In return, even amongst the followers of this hip and articulate New York folksinger, I was made to feel as if I were a traitor -- un-American -- for not supporting the taking of a life in exchange for each and every innocent American life lost in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and on that field in Pennsylvania.
And, in those days of national tragedy, it hit me: Through all the years and decades since the Summer of Love and middle school, I'd always harbored and embraced the apparently child-like belief that one day there would really be world peace. And that is what I personally lost on 9/11: the faith that I would see world peace in my lifetime.
It was a terribly difficult loss. I knew I needed to do something, if only in my own little world, to ease that pain.
I realized that -- as an adult and as a student of history and politics -- I knew a lot about the long and complicated background leading up to 9/11 that I couldn't begin to effectively explain to young people. I recognized that I would need to go to where young people were in their heads and their development and talk to them about creating world peace in a manner that they could readily understand and internalize. I knew that instead of talking geopolitics and multinational exploitation, I needed to preach kindness toward one another in their own school communities and their neighborhoods with the hope that such efforts would cause ripples to move outward and have a positive effect on others.And, having just written about it the previous month, I knew the perfect book to use in promoting kindness toward one another.
When I first read THE MISFITS by James Howe, about a quirky quartet of middle school friends who, in the midst of surviving the angst and assignments and hormones of middle school, become inspired to promote change for the better, thanks in large part to the tall, opinionated girl named Addie (who constitutes the female portion of the quartet), I was transported back to one of the most difficult times of my life. Memories of middle school -- being shoved around and called names and being devalued -- resurfaced.The week after 9/11, I began reading THE MISFITS aloud to local middle school English classes, and I later adapted the story for the middle school stage, and (inspired by what happens in the book) helped initiate a local No Name-Calling Week that, subsequently and for many years now, has become an annual, nationally-observed participatory event in many schools.Now, ten years after THE MISFITS, and years after the groundbreaking second book, TOTALLY JOE, was released, the third book about these four middle school students from Paintbrush Falls, New York, who call themselves the Gang of Five (leaving room for another in-need misfit), has now been published.Where THE MISFITS was told from the point of view of Bobby Goodspeed, and TOTALLY JOE was from Joe Bunch's perspective, ADDIE ON THE INSIDE is Addie Carle's story, and it is told in prose poetry. Like the previous two books, it has real substance along with a sweet innocence (just like I like to think I had in middle school).I readily relate to Addie Carle because I, too, always loved school. And, because of what I learned in school (and in the newspaper and by listening to topical song lyrics) I'd similarly feel compelled to express my opinions when things seemed horribly wrong. And I worried a lot about what was wrong with me that I was picked on so consistently at that age.I've now spent a fifty-six year lifetimeobserving and reacting to thedevaluation of black people and thedevaluation of women and thedevaluation of gays and thedevaluation of children and thedevaluation of Muslims and thedevaluation of the Ninth Ward and thedevaluation of today's immigrants andthe devaluation ofpretty much anybody else who can besingled out for scorn just as if the wholeworld is one big middle school.And I think that it would be really nice if it all stopped.So while I don't often write about the third book in a series, it is so worth knowing this girl and her friends that, for ADDIE ON THE INSIDE, I am making an important exception.Richie Partington, MLIS
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