Monday, February 23, 2009

Teenagers Fighting to the Death, Survivor-Style? Cool!

I just finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and am already picturing which Hollywood starlet might be cast as Katniss, the novel's spunky heroine who must fight to the death in order to win the Capitol's annual Hunger Games. A Hollywood version of this action-packed Thunderdome for the under-18 set is inevitable, so I'll just have to hope that they get it right. The Hunger Games takes place in a future world, where Armageddon has essentially befallen the United States, and the Capitol is located somewhere west of the Rockies. The country has been divided into twelve districts, which at some point in the past rose up together in a revolt against the Capitol. The Capitol won, however, and as a punishment and warning to the Districts, it holds the Hunger Games, to which each District must send two "tributes." The tributes must fight to the death in order to win the Hunger Games, which are held in a specially-designed arena controlled by the Capitol's gamemakers, who can control the weather, introduce enraged mutant animals, and even hurl fireballs at contestants if things have gotten too calm for the viewing audience. Twisted, yes. Good? For sure! Katniss and Peeta are sent as the tributes from District 12, long known as the weakest and least successful district in Games history. They work together to try and survive, even though there can be only one true winner. The Hunger Games would appeal to anyone and everyone, I think because there it's got a little of everything: action, suspense, a teeny bit of gore, a pinch of romance, and plenty of twists to keep things interesting. I didn't love it, but I really liked it, so I'm giving The Hunger Games 3 out of 4 Bananas!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Riding the Bus With My Sister: What does it mean to have mental retardation?

On this year's Illinois Read for a Lifetime list, Riding the Bus With My Sister by Rachel Simon is an inspirational, heartfelt, and brutally honest look at the joys and the pain of one sister reconnecting with another. Rachel Simon is an academic who buries herself in her work and has little time for other people. Her sister, Beth, has mental retardation and spends most of her days riding the buses in Philadelphia, where she lives independently. Rachel and Beth's family has always agonized over Beth and the role that the family should play in her life. They want her to get a job and become a productive member of society, which is something it seems she could certainly do, that is, if that's what she wanted to do. Beth's greatest desire in life is independence to do what she wants, and what she wants to do is ride the buses. While riding, she befriends the drivers and counts on them as friends, confidantes, advisors and, in some cases, objects of affection. Her fixation with the buses and drivers exasperates and embarrasses her family, however, and Rachel finds it easiest to immerse herself in her own life in order to aviod having to visit Beth and be confronted with her lifestyle. The book begins with Rachel finally feeling guilty enough to pay a visit and ride the buses for an afternoon with Beth. By the end of the day, Rachel has agreed to ride the buses with Beth for a year. The rest of the book follows Rachel's journey with her sister, her burgeoning familiarity with the ins and outs of mental retardation, and her growing familiarity with and respect for the labrynth of issues surrounding care and support of people with disabilities. Riding the Bus With My Sister does not disappoint because it does not fall back on the trite notion that people with mental retardation are "God's true angels" (a sentiment which frustrates Rachel) or that they are sweet, happy people who, like children, have no adult hopes or desires. Also, at times Beth can be rude, obnoxious, and self-centered, which challenges Rachel to deal with her feelings of anger toward her sister. I recommend Riding the Bus With My Sister to all readers because of its honesty, its inspiring look at independence, and its examination of what unconditional love can really mean: 4 out of 4 Bananas!