A few years ago I read Loving Richard Feynman, which was innovative, interesting and a really good read. So I came to Clara in Washington, written by...moreA few years ago I read Loving Richard Feynman, which was innovative, interesting and a really good read. So I came to Clara in Washington, written by the same author, quite excited – an author I’d enjoyed in the past, a fish out of water storyline, a Washington setting – I should really enjoy this book. Unfortunately, I was soon to be disappointed.
Clara has finished her school exams, but doesn’t really want to go on her normal summer holiday excursion to the beach – mostly because she’s embarrassed about the ‘relationship’ she had with a boy who will also be there. Instead, she braves the big bad world and heads to Washington DC, where her mother is working, to explore the sites of Washington, volunteer her time and hopefully find herself. Who knew there’d be anarchists involved?
There was a bit of a slow start to the book, it didn’t really get going until chapter three, which is a pretty big no-no in a Young Adult book. By the time it got going, I pretty much wanted to reach through my iPad screen and shake Clara and about half the other characters in the book. Clara’s defining quality is that she apologises ‘too much’, asks too many questions and is very unsure of herself. This plays over and over again (just to make sure we get the idea). The problem is, there are some points in the story where people just expect her to know what’s happening and then get frustrated when she asks questions. To top it all off, there’s her romance with (possibly the biggest arsehole in young adult literature) a young ‘anarchist’, coffee maker, which somehow never seems believable. I didn’t believe that Clara wouldn’t be more cautious about her relationship with him when she’s over cautious about everything else in her life.
This book could have been great. Clara sees most of Washington, but all we get to see of it is a dusty Hope Diamond, a brief glimpse of a couple of other museums and a quick peek at the Lincoln Memorial. The anarchist plotline felt over laboured, more tell than show, with lots of researched information jammed in. The likable characters in the story got too little time – a story with them featuring more would have been much more interesting. But all in all, this book just never came together in a way that was enjoyable.
This was a bit of a surprise of a book which I found myself half desperate to finish and half desperate to put down because I felt so bad for the char...moreThis was a bit of a surprise of a book which I found myself half desperate to finish and half desperate to put down because I felt so bad for the characters.
The book is about a couple from the bush, struggling after their son was taken from the Easter Show. At the same time, Tina, who is doing almost anything to survive in Kings Cross, finds a boy tied up under a kitchen table. What follows is a story told from multiple perspectives as Tina rescues the boy and works to reunite him with his parents.
It’s a strangely compelling book. It would probably get a bit tedious if we were with one person all the time, but this way we get to meet different personalities and different stories, which all work beautifully into the main narrative. There’s a sense of urgency hanging over the whole book, and there’s a lot of times where the reader knows what is happening and the characters don’t and you wish you could just reach into the book and tell them. The ending is a little too neat for me, but then it’s told from the boy’s perspective, so it’s not an adult narrator which could make it a little neater. I did find myself wanting more at the end of the book, but all in all it was a really good book, even though it wasn’t the type I usually read.
This is a book that totally grew on me. It’s about Matilda, (everyone calls her Tilda), who lives in rural Tasmania. She’s far from being a perfect st...moreThis is a book that totally grew on me. It’s about Matilda, (everyone calls her Tilda), who lives in rural Tasmania. She’s far from being a perfect student, though she’s very smart, spending a lot of time wagging school with her boyfriend. Then one day she spots an elephant seal on the nearby beach. The elephant seal, who seems to be far from it’s normal home, is heavily pregnant, and the subsequent birth of her baby ends up turning Tilda’s life completely upside down.
This is very much a book that unfolds as you read it. There’s no big passages of exposition, instead you learn about Tilda’s home life, about her friendships, even about her school principal as the book unfolds. It’s very clear to the reader that every character has a story, whether big or small, and that lives intertwine, especially in smaller country towns.
I was feeling a little ‘meh’ about this one when it started – I felt like it was treading over ground that I’d seen many times before. But then there would be a subtle twist, and I’d be left facing a completely different direction. It’s a book that’s stayed with me since I’ve put it down, too, and I find myself wanting even more of the story – especially to find out what happens next. The English teacher in me has a bit of a field day with the themes to explore, but I think most readers would pick up on some of them.
If you like this book (and I thoroughly recommend it), may I suggest reading Juggling with Mandarins, Shooting the Moon or Buddy by the New Zealand author V. M. Jones. This book reminded me very much of those books, and I thoroughly recommend them too!
This is the third in the children’s Parvana series, or the fourth if you include the companion book. I really enjoyed the first one, about a girl in A...moreThis is the third in the children’s Parvana series, or the fourth if you include the companion book. I really enjoyed the first one, about a girl in Afghanistan forced to pretend she was a boy after her father was taken away. I read it to my class, so I was excited about reading another book to find out what happened to her. Sadly, I was left a little disappointed – but I’m not sure if it was because of the choices the author made, or because I wanted it to turn out differently.
The book is written in a different way, with flashbacks throughout the book, before we come back to a ‘current day’ where Parvana is being held by the US Military. I like this, as I feel it acknowledges the growth in readers who have read the previous books about Parvana. Parvana’s life looked like it was getting a little better for a while, then it just got worse and worse, with Parvana losing precious people and being in extreme danger. Then she was taken by the US Military.
This grates on me a little. Although there was no excuse for the actions of some soldiers during the war, it almost feels like the US is being used as an easy target. A few soldiers are written as sympathetic, especially after Parvana assists an injured soldier, but it is clear that they are the ‘enemy’, even more than the remnants of the Taliban which are the cause of most of the disasters which befall Parvana. It also refuses to acknowledge that there is a coalition of countries involved in the war in Afghanistan.
I also got extremely agitated when Parvana and her mother stubbornly stuck by the school they had set up, even when it was clear they were in danger. This is more of a privilege thing, though. If things got that dangerous for us in Australia, hopefully we’d have people to turn for. For Parvana and her mother, there was no where to turn and really, no where to run to. Sticking with the school was pretty much their only choice.
So, I’m up and down on this book. I feel the ending is a little neat, but it was nice returning to such a great character. It wasn’t the way I wanted Parvana’s story to end up, but I could see the issues which Deborah Ellis was trying to raise. It was worth reading, but probably not worth a reread, or even being put to the top of the pile unless you really loved the previous books.
I constantly had to stop while reading this book to remind myself that I wasn't reading a story set in the early 1900s, I was reading a memoir by a wo...moreI constantly had to stop while reading this book to remind myself that I wasn't reading a story set in the early 1900s, I was reading a memoir by a woman younger than myself. Deborah Feldman pulls you into her world completely, while telling her story in snippets, rather than thoroughly. I found myself wanting the answer to questions as I read it, but was left satisfied by the end.
The most thorough part of her memoir is the time around and after her wedding. She highlights the problems she and her husband had consummating their marriage, not at all helped by the sketchy sex education they had both received. She also talks about her pregnancy and her gradual movement away from the Hassidic world.
I thoroughly enjoyed this and I look forward to more books by the author.(less)
Ben discovers he has a year to live. Instead of doing anything about his blood disease, instead of telling anyone, he decides to keep it secret and to...moreBen discovers he has a year to live. Instead of doing anything about his blood disease, instead of telling anyone, he decides to keep it secret and to grab life whole heartedly. But that's not all the book is about. It's about love and brotherhood and the pain of mental disease. It's about being 18 and convinced that there's some things that are black and white and having to accept the shades of grey.
It's not a perfect book - at times the main character seems too perfect, at times you just want to shake the whole lot of them. But the more I think on it, the more I think of the inconsistencies as something to be considered.
Not everyone is going to get or like this book. I don't even think I'd recommend it, because you'd never know if the person would like it or not (recommending is such a personal thing). But I enjoyed reading it, particularly the later parts of the book, and I'm glad I did come across it.(less)
I'd love to give this two different ratings. One for the stunning artwork, which consistently says more and says it better than the text. My students...moreI'd love to give this two different ratings. One for the stunning artwork, which consistently says more and says it better than the text. My students and I pour over the art work for ages, looking at the use of a skull and crossbones style Union Jack, the 'logic' of maths and science symbols which were used to rationalise so much of what the early European settlers did in Australia, the numbers attached to everything, the repeating of motifs throughout the book. As a visual literacy text, I easily matched it with The Arrival and The Red Tree as a book to use with groups in my classroom.
Then there's the text. I realize that a lot of readers from outside Australia like to use this book as a general book, or find allegories in the history of their own country. Which I find strange, because to my mind this is a very Australian book, complete with a white Australian author's understanding of indigenous Australia. And some of his understanding is pretty offensive. The part I found hardest was when he insinuated that the indigenous people lived in trees (!) as well as the simplification of the rich culture of the Australian indigenous people before European settlers arrived. Through this simplification, he's followed the message of The Rabbits - the idea of coming in and applying your own understandings to someone elses history.
The most disappointing part of this (aside from the waste of Shaun Tan's artwork) is that this is an important story, this could have been an excellent book, but it was really let down by the wrong author - and therefore is less likely to be told again.(less)
This was a truly lovely book, one which I think my students will really enjoy.
It opens in Afghanistan with Fadi, a 12 year old. Fadi's father has, thr...moreThis was a truly lovely book, one which I think my students will really enjoy.
It opens in Afghanistan with Fadi, a 12 year old. Fadi's father has, through a series of events, become an enemy of the Taliban and Fadi, his parents, his older sister and younger sister must flee. Luckily, Fadi's father studied in the USA, and they have friends and family there (differentiating this book from other Afghanistan stories like Boy Overboard, Mahtab's Story or Parvana). The only problem is actually leaving Afghanistan so they can access the assistance they need. Unfortunately, while trying to board the truck which will take them out of the country, Fadi's little sister is lost among the crush of people and the approaching Taliban.
The rest of the story deals with Fadi, his parents and older sister trying to make a life in the USA, while still trying to find his younger sister. All the while, you realize that it's August/September 2001, and things are about to change.
I'd link this book with the already mentioned books, along with Does My Head Look Big in This? (less)
One of the things I loved about this book was how easy it was to describe - "a Children's librarian borrows a child".
Of course that wasn't all it was,...moreOne of the things I loved about this book was how easy it was to describe - "a Children's librarian borrows a child".
Of course that wasn't all it was, and there's much more in the book. Like the occasional chapter that mimics a classic children's book. And the zany company of actors. And the strange but almost delightful family.
It's not a perfect book, but it's a highly enjoyable one. And one that has me thinking still, long after I'm finished with it(less)