Friday, May 30, 2008

So Long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehen Adieu!

Today is the last day of school and, I have to say, it's a good feeling. I'm looking forward to enjoying some rest and relaxation, and maybe a summer festival or two downtown, and then returning to school in August refreshed and ready to go. If anyone is out there reading this during the summer, consider joining Lit Club in the fall! I think we'll have a lot of fun and, as always, students choose the books. As you would say in Indonesian, sampai jumpa! See you later!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Life As We Knew It

*Life As We Knew It* by Susan Beth Pfeffer is one of our summer reads for incoming freshman. I thought that I'd better read it in order to be prepared to talk about it next year, and I also wanted to try it because Mrs. Fritz loved it! Its premise is fascinating: Miranda, a teenage girl with the typical joys and frustrations of a high school student, is only vaguely interested in the upcoming lunar event she's been hearing so much about. However, when she and her family gather to witness an asteroid crashing into the moon, her life is changed forever because the asteroid knocks the moon out of position and pushes it closer to Earth. This causes geologic and weather-related catastrophes of global proportions: tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and eventually drastic temperature changes. In the first few days after the event, Miranda and her family stockpile food, water, medicine, and other basic necessities in case things take a turn for the worse. It's a good thing they had the foresight to prepare, as life quickly devolves into a constant battle for survival.
I liked this book a lot for its realistic take on the aftermath of even seemingly insignificant global changes. It is timely as we witness the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the cyclone in Myanmar, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and other catastrophic geologic events around the world.
The only thing I did not like about the book is its unrealistically negative portrayal of two Christian characters (one of Miranda's friends and a pastor). It seems almost like the author has a personal problem with religion and uses her book as a platform for her views. She also makes several barely-veiled vitriolic remarks about the current president: an "idiot" who hides away at his Texas ranch. Hmm, now to whom could she be referring?
Apart from these weaknesses, I enjoyed the book and its realistic imagining of life post-apocalypse. 3 out of 4 bananas.
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

*Touching the Void* is Awesome

I love survival literature like *Into Thin Air* by Jon Krakauer (the true account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster) and *Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the U.S.S. Indianapolis* by Pete Nelson (the incredible story of the WWII ship sunk by a Japanese torpedo, leaving hundreds of men floating in shark-infested waters). There is something about the story of the struggle to stay alive in the face of desperate, hopeless circumstances that sort of renews my faith in the worthiness of the human struggle. There is also something to be said for a story that leaves your heart pounding and your jaw on the floor-- which mine certainly was as I neared the climax of *Touching the Void*. I felt like I had left Loca Mocha coffee shop and been transported to the slopes of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Fantastic!
Back in 1985. Simon Yates and Joe Simpson were a couple of young, daredevil mountain climbers who decided to tackle the West Face of Siula Grande, a 21,000 ft. mountain in the Peruvian Andes. They successfully summitted the mountain using that route, but, on the descent, Simpson fell and broke his leg. An accident like this usually means death for the victim because there is almost no way to rescue someone in that situation. Simpson and Yates, however, manage to work together and get Simpson lowered several thousand feet down the mountain, until Simpson fell over a cliff and, as far as Yates knew, into a deep fissure in the ice. Yates had no choice but to CUT THE ROPE, as Simpsons body weight was beginning to pull Yates off the mountain. The account only gets more gripping and incredible, as Simpson, by himself, with a broken leg, with no food and water, manages to get off the mountain and back to base camp.
If you enjoy taking a glimpse into the minds of those who are driven by challenge, extreme danger, and extraordinary will, you won't be disappointed by *Into the Void* by Joe Simpson. 4 out of 4 bananas.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I Am the Messenger

I just finished Markus Zusak's *I am the Messenger*, which was a 2006 Printz Award Honor Book (The Printz Award is given annually to outstanding YA titles). It's also been chosen as an 2009 Abraham Lincoln Award contender. So... I wanted to like it. I really wanted to like it because I loved *The Book Thief*, and I was anticipating another beautifully-written novel full of the figurative language I had grown to expect from Zusak (see previous post). I will say that *I Am the Messenger* has an imaginative plot that is always surprising and sometimes fulfilling: Ed Kennedy is a 19 year old underachiever who drives a cab for a living and lives in a shack with an odiferous dog named "The Doorman". Ed suddenly begins receiving playing cards in the mail, each marked with an address in the beginning or, as the novel continues, increasingly mysterious words or phrases which Ed must interpret. He must go to the home of the message's recipient and then figure out what message he must deliver. Like I said: clever, right?
I think that what I objected to in this novel was the voice of the characters, particularly of Ed himself. I loved that, as an Australian author, Zusak set his novel in Sydney and uses delightfully colorful Australian slang. My problem is that I felt like Ed is too whiny and navel-gazing, as are his friends. I felt like reaching into the pages and slapping him, saying "Get a life and quit your whining!" I also felt like some of the things the characters say (especially his rough-around-the-edges friends) are too romance-novel to be realistic. I don't think I'm a heartless reader, but it made me wonder if Markus Zusak himself is still going through some sort of "she loves me, she loves me not" teenage angst. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
My final issue with *I Am the Messenger* is the ending. I was gearing up for at least a satisfying answer to the question of who is sending Ed these messages for him to deliver, when... what? It was sort of a weird and all-too-quick wrap up for me.
Has anybody else read this? If you have, or if you do, let me know!
I hate to say it but I'm giving this one
2 out of 4 Bananas.