In the classic, LITTLE WOMEN, we, as readers, become intimately acquainted the four "little women," and their mother, Mrs. March. However, we know lit...moreIn the classic, LITTLE WOMEN, we, as readers, become intimately acquainted the four "little women," and their mother, Mrs. March. However, we know little about their father who is away from home, serving the Union army as a chaplain during the Civil War.
In her Pulitzer prize-winning book, MARCH, author Geraldine Brooks writes from the perspective of Mr. March. She bases his absent character upon what is known of Louisa May Alcott's actual father. (LITTLE WOMEN is based upon Ms. Alcott's family life, Louisa May being the impetuous, aspiring writer, "Jo".) While MARCH is slow to start and seems to initially flounder about without a sense of direction, it soon sharpens into a compelling, focused narrative. Mr. March's abolitionist idealism is juxtaposed against the realities of slavery and the depredations of war, an idealism which eventually costs Mr. March his innocence. Ultimately, it is a story of love and war, betrayal and heartbreak. The imaginative, heart-felt story, the poetic language and rich tapestry of setting, make MARCH a classic in its own right.
Even as one who has spent considerable time in Africa, "in the trenches," so to speak, one who has many African friends, I cannot say that I truly und...moreEven as one who has spent considerable time in Africa, "in the trenches," so to speak, one who has many African friends, I cannot say that I truly understand Africans. Their different ways of thinking, their cultures, their perceptions, often leave me, a white Western woman, bewildered and exasperated. Should I spend the remainder of my life among them, I believe I would always be aware of the vast gulf of understanding that stands between us and my own ingrained and presumptive Western ideologies. That's why it's invaluable to run across a book that helps me to understand, as much as I am able, the African social and familial ideologies that so fundamentally differ from my own.
SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM by Uwem Akpan is a collection of five short stories, each written through the point-of-view of an African child. From the genocide in Rwanda to the epidemic of violence in Nigeria, the children narrate the events of their lives -- the prejudices and fears, the joys and the horrors, through writing that is both vivid and stark. Born and raised in Nigeria, Akpan has truly captured the voice and heart of Africa's children. Through their chatter, their confusion, their longings, and their grief, the children communicate universal needs: to be loved, to be secure, and to be happy.
When we allow ourselves to be as children, willing to give love and be loved unconditionally, then we embrace these universal needs as fundamental human rights. And when we do that, all ideologies that before stood like fortressed walls between us, crumble into dust.
At first I wasn't so sure about this book . . . Eighty-odd pages into it, the protagonist/1st-person-narrator, Caelum Quirk, was a real jerk -- one of...moreAt first I wasn't so sure about this book . . . Eighty-odd pages into it, the protagonist/1st-person-narrator, Caelum Quirk, was a real jerk -- one of those kind of people whom I avoid in real life. But the novel (all 723 pages of it) promised something of more significance than a journey into jerkdom. So I gave the bestselling author, Wally Lamb, fifty more pages to convince me that, indeed, the rest of the book would be worth my while. No sooner had I issued the challenge, Lamb delivered in a powerful tour de force. Via the tragedy at Columbine High School, a failing marriage, and his wounded childhood, protagonist Caelum Quirk navigates the pathetic, purposeless maze of his life, slaying his monsters and demons to finally emerge with true purpose and meaning. The characters come across as real, flesh-and-blood people, the everyday Joes among us -- all of whom harbor secrets, grievances, and ancient monsters too frightening to confront. My only complaints were two-fold: 1) the author placed Caelum in the midst of, not just one media sensation, but multiple ones (all random), making Caelum seem rather like the Forrest Gump of high profile tragedies. 2) The forays into Quirk family history tended toward tedium and could have been considerably reduced, serving to increase rather than diminish the novel's message. Those minor issues aside, THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED is a novel of healing, self-discovery, courage, and compassion. Readers will not be sorry they turned that next page.(less)
Indian-born Maya Mukherjee attends middle school in a small town in Manitoba. Besides struggling with the usual issues of adolescence (including pimpl...moreIndian-born Maya Mukherjee attends middle school in a small town in Manitoba. Besides struggling with the usual issues of adolescence (including pimples and braces), Maya straddles the line between the two cultures, with neither foot firmly planted in either one. Maya yearns to belong. Maya wants to be beautiful and hip, and have the coolest boy in the school go gaga after her. One day, when Maya prays to Ganesh, the all-knowing Granter of Wishes, her wishes come true! But Maya soon learns the hard way (and funny way) that sometimes what she wishes for isn't always what she wants. MAYA RUNNING is a sweetly written, heart-warming coming-of-age story in which a young girl learns what is truly important, and where it is that she belongs. (Ages 10+)(less)
There was much in Gregory Maguire's novel, WICKED, that tickled my fancy. Elphaba, the main character more commonly known as "The Wicked Witch of the...moreThere was much in Gregory Maguire's novel, WICKED, that tickled my fancy. Elphaba, the main character more commonly known as "The Wicked Witch of the West" in the Wizard of Oz, sheds her uni-dimensional bad girl image for a more likable and complex one, complete with wounded childhood, lamentable green skin, and a tenderness toward animals. Her childhood days are a hoot (her first word as a baby was "horrors"); her days in college illuminating and self-fulfilling. But alas, as Elphaba's character begins to tread the slippery slope toward her witchy future, her ethical slide toward evil wasn't ultimately convincing or successful. So when Dorothy and gang finally do arrive (at the end of the book), it feels more like a confused afterthought rather than a knife-edged climax. Faults aside, WICKED is worth the read. Maguire's use of language is clever, insightful, and funny, his skill with dialogue is to die for, and Elphaba remains a charming character worth remembering. (less)
Most books for kids on the subject of paleontology serve up pretty much the same predictable soup full of dinosaur bones, fossils, and geological (yaw...moreMost books for kids on the subject of paleontology serve up pretty much the same predictable soup full of dinosaur bones, fossils, and geological (yawn) history. Even the proposed activities can all start to sound the same, and, except for some cool illustrations every now and then, offer little in terms of anything new and exciting.
Not so for BONES ROCK! by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan. From page one I was entranced by the easy-going narrative style of Peter Larson, a premiere paleontologist and dynamic storyteller. Readers tag along as Larson goes on his digs and excavates fossils (including two T-Rex!). Larson simply yet comprehensively explains how fossils progress (digress??) from living, breathing dinosaurs to posing in museums surrounded by schoolchildren. In addition to having great stories, BONES ROCK! is chock full of color photographs, fascinating sidebars, sample projects, a glossary, and resources such as kids' clubs, organizations, and where kids can go for summer digs. (The only thing that could have made it better would have been an index.)
Before I read this book, I had no idea that I was a latent paleontologist, but now I'm considering a summer dig, or at least a trip into fossil territory to try my luck and train my not-so-eagle-eye. Who knew? Every kid remotely interested in science or dinosaurs needs to read this book. Larson's right -- bones DO rock! (For ages 8-99; Invisible Cities Press, 2004.)(less)
In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee captures the essence of childhood amidst the tensions of a small southern town torn by prejudice and intolerance....moreIn TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee captures the essence of childhood amidst the tensions of a small southern town torn by prejudice and intolerance.
I don't know how old I was when I first read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD -- eleven maybe, or twelve. As a child, I was immediately drawn into young Scout's world. Like her, I worshiped her father, Atticus. And like her brother, Jem, I wept the tears of a child in the face of blatant, horrific injustice.
Having just finished it again after many years, I not only recalled my experience of first reading it, but I discovered the many layers in Harper Lee's story, the subtleties that had eluded my child's mind. But while the subtleties are brilliant, there is something about the innocence of a child's tears, wept on the pages so long ago; for it's the perfect capturing of that very innocence, like a bird nestled softly in the hand, that makes this book a masterpiece.(less)
"The Promise" is a poignant story about a young Jewish man living in New York City during the aftermath of WWII. Studying to be a rabbi, Reuven Malter...more"The Promise" is a poignant story about a young Jewish man living in New York City during the aftermath of WWII. Studying to be a rabbi, Reuven Malter finds himself caught between conservative and liberal Judaism, a tension that has especial relevance today both inside and outside the Jewish religion. The vivid cast of characters and the compelling storyline render Judaism, in all its theological shades and complexities, both understandable and sympathetic to the post-modern reader, and earn Reuven a beloved place in 20th century literature. (less)
I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. And on one level, I did. I enjoyed the setting, the Civil War so realistically and unapologetically render...moreI really, really wanted to enjoy this book. And on one level, I did. I enjoyed the setting, the Civil War so realistically and unapologetically rendered, the poetic descriptions, and uncommon dialogue. But on another level, I found myself not able to connect with the main characters. At times I found the characters to be so darkly introspective as to cross the line into the unbelievable. I do admire the story itself though, and I certainly admire the historical Carrie McGavock, a true heroine who acted against crushing odds.(less)
In A FINE BALANCE, the finely-drawn characters eke out a living amidst the crushing poverty of India. These invisible, untouchable people have names,...moreIn A FINE BALANCE, the finely-drawn characters eke out a living amidst the crushing poverty of India. These invisible, untouchable people have names, yearnings, and an innate sense of justice that is pitted against a cold, abusive, caste-bound India. The sheer horror of it all rivals Slumdog Millionaire, yet there is enough comic relief so that the story is not only bearable but stunningly evocative, equally heart-warming and heartbreaking.(less)