Book review Monday

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, by Kristine Barnett

Book Description: Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At nine he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age twelve he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age two, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.

The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by “experts” at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests—moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric—Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.

Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark”—his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could? This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.

My review: I cannot stop talking about this book. Thank you so much to Caroline for making the suggestion for this one, I absolutely loved it.

The thing that really struck me is that Jake is clearly extraordinary. Of course, he’s amazing and it’s a benefit to the world that his mom was able to access his mind so he could teach what it is he knows. But Kristine, I think, is equally exceptional. The amount of energy she expends in trying to tap into the potential of not only her one child, but every other child she’s come across, exhausts me just thinking about it. What an incredible person. And the challenges she’s faced are enormous – it would break a weaker person for sure. Her second son had a disease that nearly killed him before one and had to be in nearly constant physiotherapy for the first three years of his life. Then she had a stroke at thirty and was diagnosed with Lupus. Then they pretty much lost everything during the recession. And yet, she kept on with it. I can only hope that her family is finally given some security after all of that.

I think the story is of interest to all, but I think it was particularly easy to love this book as a new mother. For me personally, I’m happy I read this now, before my son has reached his first birthday. He’s a little too young to have expressed real interest in things (besides milk), but I find myself now assessing him, wondering what it is he’s going to like, what I can do for him to encourage that. Overall, I just think this book is a gem.


Blue Bloods, by Melissa de la Cruz

Book Description: Within New York City’s most elite families, there lurks a secret society of celebrated Americans whose ancestors sailed on the Mayflower. Its members are the powerful and the wealthy – and, in fact, they are not human. They are the Blue Bloods, an ancient group of vampires.

Schuyler Van Alan has never fit in at Duchesne, her prestigious New York City private school. She prefers baggy, vintage clothes instead of the Prada and pearls worn by her classmates, and she lives with her reclusive grandmother in a dilapidated mansion. Schuyler is a loner … and happy that way.

But when she turns fifteen, Schuyler’s life changes dramatically. She discovers a mosaic of blue veins on her arms, and craves raw meat. The death of a popular girl from Duchesne is surrounded by a mystery that haunts her. And strangest of all, Jack Force, the most popular boy in school, is showing a sudden interest in her.

Schuyler wants to find out the secrets the Blue Bloods are keeping. But is she herself in danger?

My review: I found this book to be all sorts of good fun, especially for a young adult. Secret societies, a background story going back to the heart of civilization and steeped in angeleology, and the uber-wealthy of New York come together to make this a fun, easy read. I’ve never read Gossip Girl, or any of the plethora other series based on New York’s elite, so this is kind of fresh to me – I’ve seen other people complain that this has been done to death, but not for me I guess. Also, sometimes it’s great to just read something that doesn’t really demand anything from you.

My biggest beef with the book is that the ending is not really an ending at all, but just a lead in to the next book, with absolutely no resolution of anything. I’m made this complaint before – I think that every book should at least finish up what it started, even if it is a part of a series. Otherwise, it just looks like the author wanted to make more sales. But this isn’t the first or last time this is going to happen.

Also problematic for me: how do you pronounce Schuyler? This drove me crazy the whole time I read the book.

Word of the day:

Sylvan: of, pertaining to, or inhabiting the woods; consisting of or abounding in the woods or trees; wooded; woody: a shady, sylvan glade


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