Sunday, April 04, 2010

I've Moved!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (book review)

Farewell to Manzanar is the true story of the trials one Japanese-American family faced when they were forced out of their home into the Japanese internment camp Manzanar in 1942. Jeanne Wakatsuki was only seven years old when she and her family left everything behind and began a whole new life in the desert behind barbed wire. At first, life is harsh and unfamiliar in this whole new environment, and even at the best of times it isn't great. But eventually, the inhabitants of Manzanar turn it into a thriving community with churches, schools, bands, and extracurriculars. For some people, Manzanar begins to feel similar to a home. But what will everyone do when the war ends, the camp closes down, and they are forced to start their lives over yet again?

This was an extremely moving book, a true story about love, loss, and a family slowly unraveling at the seams. If you want to learn about the WWII Japanese internment camps, this is a great book to start. It tells the real story of what went on and what life was like at the camps, behind barbed wire.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (book review)

"I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn't it. The house on Mango Street isn't it."

And so twelve-year-old Esperanza begins her first year on Mango Street, the first time she and her family have ever had a real house. But it isn't a house that Esperanza feels proud of. She is ashamed of its creaky steps, the cracks in the walls, and the ordinary hallway stairs. She wants nothing more to escape from the barrio, the Latino neighborhood she and her family are now living, where men have all the power and the women around her are trapped in desperate situations from which they can't escape. Take Rafaela, whose boyfriend never allows her to leave the house for fear that she might run away with someone else. Or Sally, who married an abusive husband in order to escape her abusive father. Or Minerva, only a year or two older than Esperanza but already with a husband and two children. Esperanza doesn't want same fate to befall her as has these women. She wants to become someone independent, someone whose power is her own. Someone with a house that she can point to and feel pride. And over the course of a year on Mango Street, Esperanza learns a great deal more about herself and her dreams than she could ever have imagined.

This was a very good book. It was told in a series of short vignettes, none much more than three or four pages, all about Esperanza, her family, or other members of their community. Over the course of the book, which isn't very long, we learn a great deal about the protagonist and the culture she lives in. Esperanza is a complex and meaningful character whom one can really become connected to over the course of the book. The reader will also become attached to the various other characters Cisneros introduces throughout the course of the book, as well as their sad stories.

As far as plot goes, there isn't really a linear plot in this book. Basically, it follows Esperanza as she lives out one year in the barrio, suffering some great losses and finding out a lot about herself in the process. She makes friends and loses them, and struggles to deal with her growing interest in boys. During the course of the story, Esperanza's wish for independence conflicts with her wish for a boyfriend or husband. It soon becomes clear to her that, at least in the barrio, women cannot have one of these things without having to give up the other completely. At least not easily.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye (book review)

The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, is a story about struggles, loss, and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. The protagonist, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, has just been kicked out of yet another school, and he's wondering where to go next. He doesn't officially get sent home until Christmas vacation a few days later, so he decides to take off on his own. Holden heads to New York City and stays at a series of cheap hotels, calling up and meeting various acquaintances from his past, all the while scorning the "phoniness" of the adult world in which he is immersed. Finally Holden realizes he has to go home eventually, and that he will inevitably have to face the consequences when he does. So he heads back to his house to visit his little sister, Phoebe, but stalls when it comes to meeting his parents. Hastily, Holden decides that he will run away, out to a place where no one knows him and he can start a new life, but an unexpected show of love and innocence will convince him to stay.

This book was very good; the central characters were for the most part complex and well-developed. Holden himself was a very interesting character; he felt real. He wasn't perfect at all, but his flaws made it more possible for the reader to feel connected to him, and it made him much more interesting to read about. The other characters who appeared throughout the book had varying personalities; none of them, except for perhaps Phoebe, were very complex in regards to their character, but then none of them except for Phoebe played a very central role in the book. The plot itself was intriguing and different, and it was interesting to meet all the various characters Holden experienced and to see how he interacted with them. The ending was perhaps what I liked least about the whole book--it wrapped up the book abruptly and didn't provide many actual answers. Also, I would have liked to see the conversation between him and his parents, which wasn't shown. But don't let this deter you from reading the book; it's heartwarming, sad, and exciting all at once, and it will definitely keep you reading.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (book review)

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a true story about the meat we eat and where it comes from. From tuna to turkey, Foer covers it all in this shocking book about the stuff we put on our plate. When one thinks about where meat comes from, many visualize a family of farmers out in the country, with rolling fields of wheat and a red barn in the background. The truth is that these family farmers are essentially an "endangered species" now, being pushed out of business by enormous, greedy multinational corporations with one thought: money. Money is what runs the meat industry now, not concern for the workers, the animals, the environment, or the health of consumers. But this system obviously can't last; eventually it is going to fall. And it's up to us to determine how many others--animals, workers, and consumers--will fall with it.

This was an amazing book, one of the best I have ever read. It wasn't an easy book to read; there were many sad and difficult scenes, and it is obvious how horribly the animals are treated. This book gives a convincing argument for vegetarianism, both from a moral standpoint but also for health reasons--is this really what we want our children eating? But even if you don't plan on becoming a vegetarian, this is a great book that should be added to everyone's library.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Omen of the Stars: The Fourth Apprentice by Erin Hunter (book review)

*SPOILER ALERT for earlier books in this series*

After the sharp-eyed jay and the roaring lion, peace will come on dove's gentle wing...

This is the prophecy that Dovepaw, a young apprentice in ThunderClan, has received from her ancestors. A member of one out of the four clans of warrior cats living by the lake, Dovepaw has always thought that she was just a normal cat...but she's about to find out that she's very wrong.

After the shocking death of his sister, Hollyleaf, young warrior Lionblaze is struggling to overcome the personal demons that haunt him. His whole life, he has found out, is nothing but lies. His family is not who he thought they were; his father, a warrior in rival WindClan, wants nothing to do with him. And yet he still has one thing: the mysterious prophecy that claims he and his brother, Jayfeather, hold the power of the stars in their paws.

Jayfeather is fighting to live up to the role of ThunderClan's only medicine cat after his mother, Leafpool, left her position when the web of lies she had spun was unveiled. There have been many times in his life that he wished he were simply a normal cat, but now this feeling is even fiercer. His powers are dark, allowing him to peer into the secrets of any cat he wishes. And now the ancient warrior spirits warn him of a storm brewing in the distance, something that will determine the fate of every Clan cat alive...and those yet to be born.

As a horrible drought pushes every cat to the limit of their survival, Jayfeather, Lionblaze, and Dovepaw will struggle to uncover the secrets of their immense powers, powers stronger even than those of their warrior ancestors in the stars.

This was a great start to the next arc in the Warriors series, building up suspense while tying together the shocking events of the last arc. This book is guaranteed to please any fan of the Warriors series and leave them hungry for more!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dawn of Fear (book review)

Dawn of Fear, by Susan Cooper, is the story of three young boys, Derek, Peter, and Geoffrey, living in a small town outside of London during World War II. For them, air raids are a fact of life, and they happen almost daily. Derek views them as exciting but distant. They are dangerous, but not to him. He, Peter, and Geoffrey are working on a hidden camp in the woods by their neighborhood, and it's taking up all their time and attention...until a fierce attack by a rival neighborhood gang leaves them shocked and angry. And after they carry out a dangerous plan to get revenge on the gang, Derek leaves feeling unsettled, and with new feelings on the war and on fighting in general. And then, one night, after a particularly vicious air raid, his life will be changed forever...

This was a great book! It was very fast, but also very meaningful. There was plenty of action, and the ending was very moving. It was a great war book, but different from many others, focusing on the life of a boy on the home front and how the war affected his life. I would recommend it to readers of all ages!