Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Columbine: Facts vs. Fiction, or What Really Went Down April 20, 1999

Totally gripping, extremely well-researched. Cullen's examination into the Columbine shootings is an unflinching, unsentimental look at one of the most horrific tragedies in our country's history. The book's pace is fast and alternates chapter-to-chapter between the killers, the victims, the aftermath, the families, the principal, one of the main detectives, and others involved in the event. Cullen exposes several myths (or re-exposes, as most of them have already been publicly debunked) that emerged out of Columbine, including that the killers had planned the attack exactly as it occurred (Columbine was actually a bombing gone wrong- the killers had planned to blow up the school, but the propane bombs they built and then planted did not go off); that Cassie Bernall said that she believed in God before she was shot to death (another girl actually said those words); and that the killers "snapped" due to incessant bullying from jocks (Eric Harris has actually been diagnosed posthumously as a classic psychopath who had been planning the killing spree for over a year). Columbine was the last thing I thought about before going to sleep, and the first thing I thought about when I woke up. I also thought about it intermittently throughout the day. Although it was an incredible read, I am glad to be able to get it out of my head and move on to something that is not such a terrifying look at the blackest side of human nature. 4 out of 4 Bananas!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Artichoke's Heart

Rosemary Goode is a fat teenager. This is how she sees herself: self-defined by the word "fat." She is tired of being harassed by mean girls at school and by her own mother and aunt. She is also interested in a football player, himself a strapping hulk of a guy, but doesn't believe that anyone can be interested in her in the body she's got. Ill-advised as it may be, Rosemary begins drinking Pounds-Away (a fictionalized SimFast) instead of eating regular meals and begins exercising with the help of a skinny, gorgeous new friend, and soon starts to feel better about herself. Before she begins her diet plan, however, the cute guy actually notices her and eventually asks her out, which I appreciated-- it makes the book less "cause-and-effect." One of the novel's main plot points is when Rosemary's hyper-ambitious mother is diagnosed with cancer, which affects her mother's approach to life. I loved the book and the author's wry writing style. I didn't understand, however, the best friendship that developed between Rosemary and one of the prettiest, most popular girls at the school, and I also didn't understand the out-of-the-blue attraction that the cute guy showed for Rosemary. Maybe I'm cynical, or maybe I've been working in a high school for too long, but it seemed way too easy. At least they all could have gotten to know each other in youth group, or even been forced into being lab partners (why is this always how YA authors get two totally different characters together?). Artichoke's Heart is an important addition to the teen lit genre because of its "real girl" protagonist and because of its positive message about the importance of health and of a healthy body image. 3 out of 4 Bananas!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Cold Blood: A True Crime Pioneer

I have always wanted to read In Cold Blood because it has become a modern classic; I also enjoy murder mystery novels and was interested to read the original true crime story and one of the first examples of literary non-fiction. My friend and I were talking about it this weekend and she observed that it's a time capsule of the late 1950s Midwest. It is fascinating to hear how people spoke and the different turns-of-phrases that peppered common speech. The story of the murder itself is a chilling reminder that brutal, cold-blooded murder has always existed-- even in the "Leave it to Beaver" era of the whitebread 1950s. The life stories of the two criminals themselves are depressing examples of what effect cruelty and neglect early in life can have on social and emotional development. The book lagged a bit for me in the end as the courtroom scenes played out, but as a whole it was an original and fascinating addition to the modern literary canon. 3.5 out of 4 Bananas!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What If You Only Had One Year to Live?

Chris Crutcher is a prolific young adult author adored by fans all over the world for his coming-of-age novels, of which *Deadline* is a fine example. I was intrigued by the premise, which is that Ben Wolf, an 18 year old senior in high school, finds out at the beginning of the school year that he has an aggressive form of blood cancer, and has, at most, one year to live. The kicker is that he decides not to tell anyone-- not even his parents-- and not to undergo any sort of treatment. He wants to spend his last year living life to its fullest instead of living it weak and sick from chemotherapy. He is visited in his dreams by "Hey-Soos", a sort of spiritual guide who helps him process his thoughts about the time he has left on earth. Ben decides not to live life according to his own fears or societal expectations, so he goes out for the football team (he had previously been a cross-country superstar), asks his long-held crush out for dinner, and challenges a particularly conservative, hard-headed civics teacher on a variety of social issues. This, for me, was a huge detractor from the novel. The civics teacher reads like a caricature of some sort of Bill O'Reilly ultra-conservative numbskull who actually argues that Japanese internment camps were acceptable and that book burning can be okay. I have a really hard time believing that any civics teacher would actually act like this to the degree that this guy does, and I also was irritated by his staunch refusal to allow Ben to do his senior project on Malcolm X due to his own conservative political beliefs (Ben wants to campaign to have a street in their small Idaho town named after Malcolm X). Another issue I had with the book is Ben's miraculous healing of the town alcoholic by giving him food and supplements. Really? Is that all it takes? A final element that I found hugely disturbing and out of place in the novel is the TWO parallel storylines involving incest. If Crutcher had stuck with the main dilemma of Ben's one year to live and avoided these odd sidetracks, I would have given this novel at least one additional banana. 2.5 out of 4 Bananas!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Window Into Teen Depression

I liked this YA title because it is a non-depressing book about depression. Anyone who has ever struggled with depression, knows anyone who has had depression, or who would like to understand teen depression might want to consider reading this book. The author, Ned Vizzini, actually wrote It's Kind of a Funny Story in a little less than a month after his own stint in a psychiatric hospital. In the beginning of the novel we are introduced to Craig Gilner, a suicidal teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital after planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Due to renovations in the teenage ward, Craig is placed into the adult wing of the hospital. It's an unlikely scenario, true, but the relationships that Craig builds with the other patients help him to find his own balance and, ultimately, give him hope for a healthier and happier future. It has also been made into a movie starring Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Graham, Emma Roberts and Zoe Kravitz. 4 out of 4 Bananas!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Judging a book by its cover

Hey everyone – this is Ms. Wilson, a student teacher in the fabulous library at RB. I have temporarily hijacked this blog from Mrs. Duell, but I promise to give it back to her at some point. Anyway, instead of giving all of you my life story, I should probably move on to the book review.

The old saying goes not to judge a book by its cover; however, covers can certainly draw you in. As I was browsing though a bookstore, I was immediately drawn to this book with a close-up picture of a stoic girl lying in the grass, her bright green eyes staring out and grabbing instant attention. I quickly read the synopsis on the book jacket and decided to buy it. I wasn’t disappointed. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver tells the story of Sam Kingston on the last day of her life. She wakes up in the morning convinced that it’s going to be a great day of fun with her friends, the most popular girls at the school, and she even has plans to lose her virginity with her “perfect” boyfriend that night. Things do not go according to plan and she dies in a horrible accident as she leaves a party. Instead of this being an end, it is really a beginning. Sam then wakes up on the morning of the accident, forcing her to live her last day again…and again…and again – a total of seven times. Even though the book could have become repetitive and boring, Oliver finds new ways to make the story interesting. After a few days spent living her last day with reckless abandon, Sam delves into the mystery surrounding her accident, learns how important her neglected family is to her, and realizes the perfect guy is not her boyfriend, but someone else who was right in front of her all along. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and will definitely be picking up more of Lauren Oliver’s books in the future.