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Stand Up for Others ~ And Self

Apex Tech Logo gif One trait is evident in today’s Young People (hereinafter, the “YPs”).  In print at least (meaning, on Facebook), they seem to have more of a grip than we did. Better advised by parents and schools, they understand more which roads to go down—and which not to. We were kind of shooting in the dark, as I recall.  “You must have a liberal arts education!” we were told.  Sadly, I’d have been better off with a welding certificate from Apex Tech.

With their impressive grip, the YPs seem willing to protect and defend what they believe in. In prior generations, people considered it rude to speak up in polite conversation—at, say, a dinner party—regarding, say, marriage outside of one’s race or (specific!) religion.  Really, there’s nothing noble about listening to someone excoriate what you believe in, or (politely!) watching someone catch abuse. The YPs make a stand without being nasty about it.  We can be like them. Just say, “I disagree. Can we change the subject?” Or when it’s unsalvageable: “Hey wow, I forgot have a dental appointment. It starts in 10 minutes, and lasts the rest of my life.”

Sure, it’s uncomfortable to confront people, but as Rudolph the Reindeer’s father (Donder!) notes with a (Yankee?) disdain for self-indulgence, “Some things are more important than comfort. Like self-respect.”  Okay, so he says it regarding a fake nose cap he’s making his son wear to fit in.  I’m using it anyway.

Speaking of Rudolph, I have a friend with that name. He introduced himself to me years ago with, “Rudolph…as in ‘the Red-nosed Reindeer,’” a thrilling and crisp addendum. Ever since, when meeting people I imagine (silently!) what they could say to jazz it up (“White, as in the absence of color”; “Creamer, as in ‘non- dairy’”; “Joseph, as in ‘Jesus, Mary, and…’”; “Lava, as in ‘molten”; “Polly, as in “’…wanna cracker?’”) Let’s face it, in hard tymes, we can use all the laffs we can get. So if you have a name that’s a word in the English language, you might try this out for the benefit of All.

Back to protect/defend: many motorists dig those construction road signs with giant letters, “LET ‘EM WORK ~ LET’ EM LIVE.”  Succinct; clear; a trifle threatening. I’d like shirts saying that for protecting/defending. See someone getting picked on? Wear the shirt and stand around him all day. Hear an employee getting wailed on by an employer or customer? Speak up! Throw the shirt at the perp! Do something. Do it!

I have a post-menopausal acquaintance that looks younger (dammit) than I. There was a guy she liked who seemed interested but wasn’t asking her out. She told her friend that he’d better make his move because, “My clock is ticking.”  Friend’s response?  “Yeah, the big one.”  Not the biological clock, the big clock. The big clock is ticking, people. Don’t tarry. At age 32, another friend started getting cold feet about his relationship. Someone advised him to stay, suggested he was just panicking about giving up his solitary lifestyle. Two decades later, he’s glad he did. So I say if you’re (1) dilly dallying: knock it off and (2) putting up with dallying/dallying: knock it off. Speak up for yourself. Time’s a wastin’.

Now if you’re taking repeated punches from someone, the smart thing is to nip it in the bud. Let your attacker know his or her unkind behavior is being noted and that you are not falling for it—that this is not something you somehow “deserve.”  They’ll move on to other prey and, generally, it’s much more fun sticking up for someone else than for yourself. That’s why god invented bodyguards, wingmen, tailgunners, right-hand women, and riding shotgun. But remember, the pen is mightier than the shotgun.  As is a well-arched eyebrow.

Your monthly good news is that eco-protector/defender Mayor Bloomberg is crusading for New Yorkers to separate their garbage for composting. NYC plans to compost 100,000 tons of food scraps yearly, then build a plant to process this into bio-gas to generate electricity. Frisco and Seattle have already mandated same.  Right on.

I’ll leave you with this quote from John Caruso’s excellent YA novel, Hard Magic:  “They knew from then on… they could depend on each other. That was real. It was one thing to sit around a room and share information and speculate about the truth of things; it was another thing to use what you knew and go out into the world and change things for the better or, at least, keep things from getting worse.”

Get up. Stand up. Don’t give up the fight. Good day.

A YA Mystery Both Smart and Charming

Hard Magic book coverAt the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival on May 18, Braintree author John Caruso’s textured novel Hard Magic received an Honorable Mention for Young Adult Fiction, in what organizers called “a very, very tough competition.”  A dark yet sparkly mystery comprising multifaceted characters, dialogue among kids and adults that is neither corny nor precious, and rural issues—with clues, clues, and more clues — it is written with a deft hand requiring young readers to not only pay attention, but to look up the occasional vocabulary word. Hear, hear!

A story involving magic and teen sleuths begs comparison to other YA works, but important elements separate Hard Magic from the pack. First and foremost: superior writing. Caruso is a writer’s writer. He includes brilliant metaphoric turns of phrase, a nuanced tone, and observations about rural life that delight adult readers while rendering young readers just plain lucky to have him directing his writing, for the first time, their way.  Second: it is expertly plotted (and sub-plotted), without overly descriptive passages to spoil a calculated pace that begins as lazily as a summer’s day, then barrels ahead in a race to the finish. Third, it has the intelligence to let the reader decide who’s good or bad, and why; it is more about exploring how the world works and who controls things than delivering a clichéd battle between good and evil. Fourth: it is poignant, with characters worth caring about. That’s because, Caruso says, he wanted in his book the emotional payoff of YA books he read as a young adult himself.

As for the title, one reader interpreted it this way: “Real change comes from hard magic, real work, not comic human hopes in the supernatural.” The characters must work for what they want; there is no magic fix, and the reader sees each making choices for thought-out reasons. Caruso’s teens are determined sleuths that use their smarts—they do not serendipitously stumble upon clues like my generation’s ever-lucky Nancy Drew.  The players are complex people with good and bad qualities, and vulnerabilities. Even the most cutthroat among them displays wit, style, and heart.

With a generous mix of male and female characters that pop in and out, there are delectable hints at romance, but in this book the mystery’s the thing.

Hard Magic took the author two years to write plus one year of revisions, the key to excellence in writing. A natural born novelist, Caruso (a Vermont resident since 2001), refuses to “write down to” young readers, as he puts it. His style encourages them to ask, “What is really going on here?”; “What does that phrase mean?” and—which makes it a page turner—“What happens next?”

This tale set in Vermont has something summery for everyone: intrigue, family, fireworks, spells gone awry, cookouts, contraptions, junkyards, bewitched teachers, swimming holes, enchanted flora, evil fauna, magic potions, carnivals, Vermonty characters, word games, diabolical forces, weird behavior, and the long arm of the law. The magical parts are deliciously crafted. A passing reference to a possible physical or sexual assault renders it suitable for readers over age 13, depending upon the child and parents.  Most importantly, the book fosters…reading. Imagine that.

Hard Magic is available at Bud and Bella’s Bookshop in Randolph, at The Yankee Bookshop and Shiretown Books in Woodstock, and online at, (print or Kindle), or

Get it. Read it. Love it.  coverphoto

Ann Aikens

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