Vocabulary from Half Broke Horses: Abscond

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme for people interested in learning new words.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for links to more vocabulary boosters!

My word today comes from Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls.  Walls has captured the authentic, wise, and humorous voice of her grandmother, Lily.  (What a delicate name for such a tough lady!)  Although I don’t choose non-fiction, I’m enjoying this “true life novel.”

Lily’s father loved writing and

his sentences were long and extravagant, filled with words like “mendacious” and “abscond” that most of the folks in Toyah would need a dictionary to understand.

I tackled mendacious last week (who remembers what it means?  Think tabloids.)  Now for abscond, definitely one of those I’ve heard before but can’t remember.

Half Broke Horsesabscond \ab-skänd\ verb from Latin abscondere to hide away, from abs + condere to conceal; to depart secretly and hide oneself; to go away and take something that does not belong to you


My daughter attempted to abscond with the Snickers in her bedroom, but I followed the trail of wrappers and caught her.

Word nerd note: Condere means to “conceal” and is the base for “condiment” – interesting!

Word Nerd Workout

Complete the analogy:

bivouac : take shelter :: abscond : ____________

Find the relationship between the first two words/phrases and create a parallel relationship in the second pair.

Spread the (word nerd) word on Twitter: Word Nerd Word: abscond = to depart secretly and hide oneself via @juliatomiak 

Banned Book Giveaway

I’m giving away a Barnes and Noble gift card to one lucky reader who comments on my Banned Books Week review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Stop by and comment by Friday, Oct 3.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me,


Banned Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Banned Book Week 2014

It’s Banned Books Week!  Have you read anything banned lately?  You might be surprised.  Visit Sheila at Book Journey for giveaways and discussion of banned books.

Perks of Being a WallflowerIf you’ve heard anything about the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, then you won’t be surprised it was one of the most frequently challenged books of 2013.  Wallflower shares this distinction with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Hunger Games, Looking for Alaska, Bone, and Captain Underpants, among others.  (Go to the American Library Association site for more lists.)

Word nerd note: If a book is challenged, it means that an individual or group has requested to remove a book from a school curriculum or library or a public library.  If a book is banned, that means it has been removed. The American Library Association gathers statistics about challenges and bans.

Yes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has controversial content, including homosexuality, rape, abortion, drug use, suicide, and sexual abuse.

But, there’s also good introspection.  The characters make some bad choices, but they also face hard consequences for their decisions.

The Premise

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a series of letters that fifteen year old Charlie writes to a “friend”.  We never know who, just that Charlie trusts him or her based on a conversation he overheard.  Charlie prefers writing letters to a diary because “a diary can be found.”

It’s August 1991, and Charlie anxiously awaits his freshman year of high school. His best friend committed suicide at the end of eighth grade, and his older brother is leaving to play football at Penn State.  Charlie has never had lots of friends, and many people consider him a “freak”, so he worries about how to fit in.  He meets two seniors who offer genuine friendship, but also expose Charlie to difficult issues.

We were infiniteWhat I Liked

I love Charlie.  He’s kind, intelligent, and accepting, although sometimes too accepting, which gets him into trouble.  His friend Patrick says to him, “You see things,… and you understand.” Charlie thinks A LOT, but he’s also naive about sex and drugs.  He gets himself into awkward situations.

Although things get bleak for Charlie, by the end of the book, he figures things out. He stops being such a “wallflower” and starts to “really be there.”

In one of his last letters, he says:

But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.

There are lots of great lines like this.

Charlie compiles an awesome mix tape for his friend Patrick, including songs like Landslide, Blackbird, and Smells Like Teen Spirit.  I will make a “Wallflower” playlist for my iPod soon.

What I didn’t like

Almost every character has a dysfunctional issue to deal with, and at times Charlie’s world feels exceptionally dark. And, I wish the book didn’t have quite as much drug use or one particularly explicit scene.


Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a thoughtful book that addresses many issues that teenagers face.  I’m willing to put up with the edgy content because most of the characters are compelling and real, and the book honestly addresses difficult issues.

When my kids read it, we’ll have lots to discuss.

I listened to the audiobook of Perks, and it’s very well done.

Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower?  What did you think?  How do you decide if controversial content is “worthwhile” in a book?

In honor of Banned Books Week, I’m giving away a Barnes and Noble gift card to one lucky reader who leaves a comment on this post.  Enter by Friday, October 3, 2014, to win.

Remember to visit Sheila at Book Journey for links to more discussion and reviews about banned books.


Vocab from Half Broke Horses: Mendacious

Wwondrous memeelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a great meme for word nerds who want to improve their vocabulary!  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion to find more interesting words.

My word today comes from Half Broke Horses, a “true-life” novel by Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle.   In Half Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her grandmother, a “no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling” woman.  Although the book is about real people and real events, Walls still calls fiction because she used creative license to fill in some details.

It’s well written, and Lily Casey Smith, Wall’s grandmother, is an intriguing character.  Early on, Lily says of her father:

When it came to the written word, no one could string together sentences like Dad.  His handwriting was elegant, if a little spidery, and his sentences were long and extravagant, filled with words like “mendacious” and “abscond“…

Half Broke HorsesMendacious \men-‘dā-shəs\ from Latin mendax – lying; characterized by deception or falsehood which often is not intended to genuinely mislead

You know when you can tell that someone is embellishing their story for dramatic effect?  I think that’s what mendacious means.  Or, you could say that tabloids often run mendacious stories about celebrities.

I’ll get to abscond next week. ;)

Word Nerd Workout

Use mendacious in a sentence.  Here’s mine:

Eli’s older siblings have little patience for his mendacious stories about his prowess on the soccer field.

Don’t forget that this week is Banned Books Week.  Celebrate your American right to read whatever you want!  You can find more information about Banned Books Week at the American Library Association website, and in these posts:

Why Banning Books is a Bad Idea

Why Banned Books Week Has Me Thinking

What You Need to Know About Banned Books Week

Also, visit Coach Daddy’s blog for some funny six word thoughts on what makes us chicken.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


Spread the (word nerd) word on Twitter: Word nerd word: mendacious = characterized by deception; think tabloids via @juliatomiak


What You Need to Know About Banned Books Week

Banned Book Week 2014

This week is Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association and many other organizations to raise awareness about censorship.  Have you read any of these books?

  •  The Great Gatsby
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Captain Underpants
  • Looking for Alaska
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Hunger Games
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The Chocolate War

If yes, you’ve read a book that has been challenged or banned.

Word Nerd Notes on BBW

If a book has been challenged, it means that an individual or group has petitioned a school or library to remove a book from the curriculum or from the school or library.

If a book has been banned, that means it has been removed.

Usually, the people challenging books have good intentions to protect children from inappropriate material. (Most complaints include offensive language and sexually explicit content.)

Yes! This book - one of my favorites - has been banned.

Yes! This book – one of my favorites – has been banned.

As a conservative mom, I understand this motivation.  However, this is a First Amendment issue.  In short, I don’t have the right to tell other people what they can read.  I agree with Free Access to Libraries for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA’s basic policy concerning access to information) which says, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.”

Yup.  I have issues with Looking for Alaska.  So I’m asking my kids to wait to read it.  But I’m not trying to pull it out of the school or public library.  Also, I’m learning to use controversial content as a springboard for conversations, even if it’s about stuff that’s hard to talk about.

Banned Book Review

Come back on Friday for my review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  I’ll be giving away a Barnes and Noble gift card. You can also visit Carol Cooney’s blog and Sheila at Book Journey to find more discussion of banned books and more giveaways!

Read on!




Four Books for Your Teenage Son: A Preview

background made from opened booksIt’s happening.

My oldest son started high school and stopped reading.

Well, not stopped.  But significantly decreased time spent nose-in-book.  And I have to admit, I’m silently panicking. This is my child who was so engrossed in a book that he stayed in his fourth grade class reading when everyone else left to go to P.E.  He didn’t notice until his teacher turned the lights out.

Now, he’s busy with sports and study groups.

He used to read in the van on the way to school.  Now he plays Clash of Clans.

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if you can find a child a book that interests him, you won’t have to fight about reading.  So, I’ve done some research, and here are four books I plan to lay on his desk in the near future.  (Note, I won’t nag him, just lay the novels in an obvious spot.)  In full disclosure, I haven’t read 75% of these, so consider these “previews”, not reviews.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I didn’t like this book, which is basically one long complaint from Holden Caulfield, but guys seem to enjoy Holden’s cynicism.  Note: According to the ALA, The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most frequently banned classics because of its profanity, sexual references, and lack of morality.  Goodreads describes Catcher as “the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.”

Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams  

I’ve heard this is a must read for teenage boys. It’s sci-fi with dry British humor and covers issues like materialism and the nature of existence.  Big stuff in a funny package.  Sounds like John Green!  (See below) Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for 12 year olds.  We’re behind!

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green 

My son and I read Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, but we haven’t gotten to Katherines yet.  John Green skillfully balances BIG IDEAS with humor; he really gets adolescent angst.  My son didn’t like TFIOS – too depressing I think.  But Katherines tells the story of a misfit math prodigy who develops a theorem for dating success. Shouldn’t be too sad. Common Sense warns it has profanity and sexual references as well, but hopefully not as explicit or concerning as the ones in Looking for Alaska.

Eye of MindsEye of Minds by James Dashner

Dashner wrote The Maze Runner series, which I discovered too late had lots of violence.  Ah, well.  Common Sense Media says that “Eye of Minds is a fast paced cyperpunk thriller set in an online gaming world.”  Um, hello?  Fast paced gaming?  I think my boy will like it.  And according to Common Sense, language, violence, and sex are (thankfully) not an issue here.

Maybe I’ll put this one at the top of the pile.

Can you recommend any other fiction for this “Teenage Boy” list?  I’d love more suggestions!  Can you comment on any of the books I’ve listed here?




Vocab from Artemis Fowl: Bivouac

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a great way for word nerds to learn new vocabulary.  To join in, visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion and be sure to share new words you’ve discovered recently.

My word comes from my Merriam-Webster Word of the Day email, but it reminded me of a great scene from Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex.  In the story, Artemis and his friends face attack in arctic conditions.  Artemis’s alter ego suggests that the crew “bivouac”.

First of all, the word is a mouthful.  I’ve included an easy pronunciation guide to help. Second, even though I heard bivouac used in context, I didn’t get the meaning right.  M-W cleared things up.

The Atlantis Complexbivouac \BIV-uh-wak\ verb from the German biwacht, meaning “by guard”; the French word bivouac came from biwacht  and could mean the guard of an army (noun) or the act of guarding (verb).  Today the word has more to do with taking shelter than guarding.  It means to make temporary camp under little or no shelter.

After listening to the story (I enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series via audio book), I thought a bivouac was a tent, or shelter.  I didn’t realize it was a verb!  Thanks, Merriam-Webster.

Word Nerd Workout

Have you ever bivouacked? (Yes, that’s a word.)  Any bivouac experience could be the inspiration for awesome stories!  Please share.

Also, this weekend I heard Jeff O’Neal use one of my Wondrous Words from Where’d You Go, Bernadette on the Book Riot podcast.  The word: insouciant.  Does anyone remember what it means?  I do. ;)

Recommended Reading

Today I have a guest post up at Eli Pacheco’s blog Coach Daddy on how I apply coaching to parenthood.  It involves giant lollipops.  Eli is hilarious, a fellow word nerd with lots of fun insights on fatherhood, soccer, and doughnuts.  Please visit!

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.