Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the heartbreakingly hilarious (hilariously heartbreaking?) story of Arnold Spirit, Jr., or "Junior" for short. Junior is a 14 year old Native American kid growing up on a reservation just outside of Spokane, WA (just like Alexie himself). The novel is told from Junior's perspective and is accompanied by cartoonist Ellen Forney's fantastic illustrations of characters or events that look like they could have come straight out of a diary:
Like many others on the reservation, several of Junior's family members are alcoholics, live in poverty, and struggle with depression and hopelessness. Junior, however, has managed to hold onto hope for a better life, and with that, he announces that he will no longer be attending the high school on the "rez" but will be transferring to Reardan, the rich, white high school in a nearby farm town. This leads to his ostracism from the tribe, as he is seen as rejecting his Indian family in favor of the white world. The white students, however, also don't fully accept him because he's not like them, either, so Junior ends up being caught between two worlds. He loses a best friend, gains a "translucent semi-girlfriend", and is hit with two family tragedies during his first year at Reardan.
What I loved about this novel is that the tragedies of Junior's life and the real problems faced by Native Americans today are not hidden; in fact, I feel like they are laid bare for all to witness and understand. Alexie's writing style is so witty, however, and and his observations are so poignant, that the story is NOT a downer. It is actually the perfect balance of humor and outrage, hope and despair. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has absolutely been one of the best books I've read this year. 4 out of 4 Bananas!
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2011 Nominee
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
As the novel progresses, bits and pieces of what actually happened during the summer are revealed. Annabel also becomes friends with Owen, a huge, threatening-looking kid known for punching people when provoked. Owen actually is a knowledgable music fanatic who helps Annabel get the courage to tell him and, finally, her family what happened that summer.
In addition to her own struggles with school and with the traumatic event of last summer is her older sister Whitney's eating disorder, which threatens to tear Annabel's family apart.
For anyone who enjoyed Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and likes dramatic tales of friendship and relationships, Just Listen won't disappoint. 3 out of 4 Bananas!
Monday, May 24, 2010
Each chapter in American Rust is told from a different character's point of view, which allows the reader to feel the economy's impact on different areas of the population. What I loved about The Catcher in the Rye is Holden Caulfield's voice, and how he deals as a young man with conflicting feelings of anger, love, sexuality, rebellion, responsibility, alienation, etc.. The two protagonists of American Rust are young men who both held a lot of promise: one for his academic abilities and the other for his prowess on the football field. For various reasons, each gave up his dream of a different life in order to stay in the hometown, which holds nothing for them. Throughout the novel, each character undergoes an internal struggle involving some of the same issues that Holden Caulfield deals with in Catcher.
American Rust begins when one of the protagonists decides to leave home after having stolen several thousand dollars from his father and convinces the other boy to join him and start a new life in California. Shortly after their journey begins, however, a traumatic event changes everything for them, forever. These reads like an Important Book, without being inaccessible. A movie adaptation is currently in the works. 4 out of 4 Bananas!
Friday, April 30, 2010
Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view, and several seemingly unrelated storylines are brought together for a surprising conclusion. What I liked about this is that Coben's characters use a lot of current cell phone and computer technology, which will probably render the novel outdated in a few years, but makes it seem cutting edge in 2010. What I didn't like is Coben's writing, which is not very interesting (to me, but maybe that's snobbish), or his storyline which seemed contrived. However, this novel received enough student, teacher and librarian votes to land on the 2011 Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award list, so what do I know? 2 out of 4 Bananas
Monday, April 19, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
The novel is set in the early 1960s and explores the relationship between black household maids and their affluent white employers, told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of maids, employers, and the white woman who becomes compelled to tell the maids' stories. What I liked about the book was that the African American characters are so vividly and warmly developed, that not all of the white characters are bad, and that the story is fast-paced and compelling. What I didn't like so much was that Skeeter, the white character who writes the maids' stories, is portrayed a little too much like a white savior, assisting the poor and weak black characters. I'm sure a lot of people will reject this assessment and argue that the black characters are NOT weak- they're not, no, but they do rely on Skeeter to gain power over their white employers. Race is a complicated issue in this country, so there are no "safe", comfortable or easy ways to write about race relations. Kathryn Stockett comes fairly close, however, and since I enjoyed the story so much I am giving *The Help* 3 out of 4 Bananas!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Don’t let the pink cover make you think it’s a girly, romance-y book, because it isn’t. The character development was wonderful – you’ll probably love some and despise others – and the balance between humor (Bea and Jonas’s “prom” date) and sadness (their dysfunctional families) was well done. I don’t usually like books that end with my heart aching (okay, I’m a wimp), but it was so appropriate in this case. Two thumbs up!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
4 out of 4 Bananas!
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
I'll admit to a fascination with Cold War-era Soviet Union (I even took a college history course about it), but even those with little background knowledge will be fascinated by what it reveals about the Soviet government and the reign of terror it held over its citizenry during the Stalin and post-Stalin years.
The novel's protagonist is Leo Stepanovich Demidov, a resident of Moscow and an agent of the Soviet secret police force. Leo is often obliged to arrest citizens in the dead of night for a variety of "crimes against the State". He doesn't normally consider the validity of these arrests, as his job gives him enormous personal benefits and a comfortable life compared to the vast majority of the population. Leo's unwavering belief in the righteousness of the State is shaken, however, when two events occur: first, he realizes that a man he's just arrested is a completely innocent veterinarian, and second, one of his colleague's children is brutally murdered. Leo is forced to pay the family a visit and essentially threaten them into accepting that their child's death was simply an unfortunate accident, not a murder. Murders and other crimes are not supposed to exist in the Soviet system, which is supposed to breed happy citizens, and happy citizens do not commit murder.
When it's discovered that Leo does not believe that the veterinarian he arrested was guilty, he and his wife are forced into exile, and Leo is demoted to the local militia. He soon discovers that several local children have been murdered in the manner in which his colleague's child was killed. This discovery leads Leo to begin investigating a serial killer who has been murdering children across the Soviet countryside, but he is forced to pursue the killer secretly, for fear of being discovered by the authorities and executed for his illegal investigation.
This book absolutely crackles (I don't think I've ever described a book that way!), but it's an accurate description of how fast-paced and exciting it is. Smith's prose is fluid, and the picture he paints of life under 1950s Soviet control is stark and terrifying.
Child 44 is without a doubt one of the best three books I've read in the past several years. Totally recommended to everyone who enjoys a great story with a ton of dramatic tension. 4 out of 4 Bananas!