Monday, April 27, 2009

Do Fashion and Religion Mix?

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah is a welcome addition to the realistic teen fiction genre. It is the story of Amal, a 17 year old Australian girl who decides to proclaim her faith publicly by wearing a hijab, or Muslim headcovering. The novel is written in Amal's fresh voice, which is a fun combination of sarcastic wisecracking and earnest religious dialoguing with friends and family. Here's what I liked so much about this novel:
- Amal is a religious teenage protagonist (it seems that religious characters are often used as foils for the main characters)
- Amal is a realistic religious character, who is concerned with the same frienship/guy/family issues as non-religious teens would be, but doesn't act high-and-mighty because of her religion
- It addresses many common misconceptions and fears people have about Islam
- I love the Australian slang! (I have worked with lots of Australians and have always enjoyed the slang terms they use-- lots of creative abbreviations, and adjectives, especially. I mean, who doesn't love the word "dag"?)

The only issue I had with the novel is that it could have used a little more editing for clarity and brevity; it seemed that the author had a lot to say, and used Amal as a vehicle for getting across her point of view. I think it's an extremely important and relevant read, however, so I'm giving it 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CSI for the High School Set

If you like CSI and other forensic mystery TV shows and movies, you should enjoy The Christopher Killer, by Alane Ferguson. Cassie is a high school student whose father is the town's coroner (the guy who picks up dead bodies and then, if necessary, performs an autopsy to find out cause of death). Cassie wants to be a forensic scientist, so she is always reading about how the police use clues from murder scenes to catch the killers. In the beginning of the novel, Cassie's father is beginning to get swamped at work, so he asks Cassie to be his assistant, much to her delight. She struggles a bit with her first dead body, but is interested in the work and enjoys using what she's learned from her extracurricular studying. She and the town are shocked to the core, however, when one of her high school friends is found dead in the woods. It's determined that the girl is the latest victim of the Christopher Killer, a serial killer who has been murdering girls across the country, always placing a small St. Christopher medallion somewhere on their bodies. Can Cassie get beyond her personal grief and help avenge the death of her friend by finding the killer, without becoming a victim herself? I liked this book a lot because of Cassie's strength as the protagonist, and for its combination of science, suspense, and teenage relationships and friendships. I was also pretty satisfied with the ending. 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas!

Friday, April 3, 2009

What is Moral Responsibility?

I read The Reader by German author Bernhard Schlink while I was in Mexico during Spring Break. It's not exactly a vacation read, but I enjoyed it all the same. It's a very different sort of book from what I've been reading lately, which have mostly been mysteries and thrillers (love those!). Since Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role as Hannah Schmitz in the movie version of The Reader, though, I thought that this novel translated from the German was worth a look. It's the story of Michael Berg, a teenage boy in the years following World War II, who begins an affair with an older woman (Hannah Schmitz, the Kate Winslet role). The affair is very erotic and exciting, but soon begins to have a dark side when Hannah avoids questions about her past and shows some troubling sides to her personality. And then, one day, she is gone. Michael does not see her again for years, after he has been married, had a child, and then divorced. The circumstances in which he sees Hannah again force Michael himself as well as the reader to ask certain moral questions about the nature of responsibility, guilt, redemption and forgiveness. These questions are not easy to answer, particularly when dealing with a subject like the Holocaust, which is the time period after which The Reader takes place. I liked this book and felt that it was an important read because it filled a gap in my own consciousness and provided food for my own thought and personal moral development. It's not a technically difficult book to read, as it is fairly slim and straightforward, but the themes are certainly sophisticated and require a patient, thoughtful mind. 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inexcusable's Main Character is, well, Inexcusable

Have you read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? If you did, and loved it, then you should give Chris Lynch's Inexcusable a try. This is a gripping, fast-paced novel from the viewpoint of an unreliable, potentially unstable, narrator. Keir Sarafian is a good guy, everybody says so. So, if he's such a stand-up, admirable person, it's impossible that he would rape a girl that he's totally in love with...right? That's what Keir is trying to convince the reader of during the course of this novel, which opens with a scene where the girl, Gigi, is screaming, crying, and accusing him of raping her. Now I would say that usually in a novel, the reader likes or identifies with the main character or narrator. In Inexcusable, however, I never felt comfortable with Keir. I was always on edge with him, and was suspicious of what he was telling me. Were my suspicions justified? Is Keir really who he thinks he is, or is there a dark side to him? I loved this book, partly because I was uncomfortable while I was reading it, and also because it was fun to question the truthfulness of the narrator. 4 out of 4 Bananas!
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee