I could write two very different reviews of Octavian Nothing. There's the one where I gush and gush and practically drool over it - the raw emotion! tI could write two very different reviews of Octavian Nothing. There's the one where I gush and gush and practically drool over it - the raw emotion! the unexpected humor! Private Ev's letters! Then there's the one where I sing its technical praises - how finely it creates the atmosphere of another time, and the use of language, and how it is a fine, fine example of the powers of historical fiction, and how Mr. Anderson does not underestimate the abilities of the young adult, but rather shows them respect by offering such a fine specimen.
But really, those two reviews are both true, and it's the combination of the two - the fact that it is gushworthy, heartbreaking, and intellectually stimulating all at once - that makes it Good Book in every sense of the word.
That said, I know it's not a book for everyone. It's not an easy read, and the beginning is more curious than entertaining. The book takes its time to unfold characters and world views. It uses a variety of formats to tell the story. Much of the humor comes late in the story, surrounded by pain. It's clever, and emotional. It makes you think about how history is much messier than what ends up in your school curriculum, and more compelling.
The audio version is very well done, with differences in voice for the different narrators and characters of the story. The reader has the kind of skill that makes the voice seem to take a back seat to the text, while subtly enhancing it. Some things are lost in audio, like Private Ev's delightful capitalization and punctuation, but the tone of voice makes up for it, and none of the emotion of the story is lost....more
Wonderstruck seems to be "that book" this year - the one that everyone else gushes over but in which I can't see the same magic. Are the illustrationsWonderstruck seems to be "that book" this year - the one that everyone else gushes over but in which I can't see the same magic. Are the illustrations glorious at times? Is the interplay between the text-story and the picture-story beautifully paced? Yes, and yes. But - neither story felt emotionally resonant at the end. None of the characters leaped off the page as living, breathing people. There were some plot issues, which I won't get into for fear of spoilers, that distracted me from the potential magic in the ending. To be honest, I had similar feelings about The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the magic came through more strongly there and the resolution didn't seem as based on plot holes as here. Still, it gets points because I loved the illustrations and enjoyed reading it.
Excellent books are the hardest to review - all you really want to do is shove them into people's hands and make them read. Add on the fact that thisExcellent books are the hardest to review - all you really want to do is shove them into people's hands and make them read. Add on the fact that this book has already received plenty of glowing reviews, and it becomes hard to say anything articulate and fresh about it.
A piece of history under-represented in children's fiction? Check. A whole slew of believable and interesting characters, including one fantastic narrator? Check. A story that manages to cover the microcosm and the macrocosm at the same time, complete with good pacing, humor, the responsibilities of being the oldest child, issues of race, the thrill of adventure, and poetry? Check, check, check.
Just go read it already. If this doesn't get some kind of shiny sticker come awards season, I'll be surprised.
Edited to add: I reread this on audio and the reading is superb, perfectly capturing Delphine's narrative voice, which I still think it one of the highlights of the book....more
This little gem won the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction - a little publicized award that has recognized some really excellent children's titThis little gem won the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction - a little publicized award that has recognized some really excellent children's titles. Last year The Green Glass Sea, one of my 2006 favorites, snagged the medal. Between that book and this one, I'm now convinced that I have to check out the rest of the list. The River Between Us is compelling in its details - from the Model T road-trip in the first chapter to Civil War era characters sewn into their winter underwear. It contains that never-to-be-forgotten reference to Mrs. Champ Hazelrigg who "was et by her own hogs," as well as dozens of other lines that begged to be read aloud. I must admit that I saw a significant part of the ending coming a mile away, but that didn't make the unfolding of the truth any less interesting. I didn't care for the character of Delphine, preferring down-to-earth Tilly, who narrates. The tone and scope give a great slice-of-life in the Civil War. Seems like it would be good for middle school and up, and a great read aloud....more
I never thought I would find myself describing a graphic novel about the first dog in space as a heart-wrenching tearjerker, but here I am. I'm not aI never thought I would find myself describing a graphic novel about the first dog in space as a heart-wrenching tearjerker, but here I am. I'm not a dog person, I'm not an animal person in general, but I know a good tearjerker when I read one and this is it. Consider yourself warned. You might also stay up till 1 am to finish it.
That said, my other main thought about the book is audience. Intertwined with the story of Laika growing up on the streets and becoming part of the Soviet space program is a fair amount of politics. Most of the characters are adults - two children appear briefly as characters - and the story spends time examining life under socialism and the motives behind the urgent launching of Sputnik II. The adult characters are fleshed out, from office politics to Yelena's drinking and agonized days as she waits for the shuttle to launch. It never felt like a book for children; however, I think it would be entirely accessible to children. The fiction and fact meld together perfectly, and the story would have lost depth and emotion without the graphic novel format. ...more
I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars - it was a good little read but nothing I'll gush over. It has a lot of outward similarities to A Drowned Maiden's HairI'm torn between 3 and 4 stars - it was a good little read but nothing I'll gush over. It has a lot of outward similarities to A Drowned Maiden's Hair (which I DID gush over) - historical setting, girl in the clutches of not-so-nice parent/guardian who uses her in seances, etc. to make money. But this is no copy-cat and stands well on its own. Annie is 15 and they've just moved to a new town. Her mother has set up shop reading palms, channeling the dead, all the usual. Annie must pretend to be the town idiot to gather information for her mother, information that is then used to make fortune tellings and seances believable. Annie has an unsurprising love-hate relationship with her mother, gets a crush on a boy, makes a friend, discovers she likes high school, and tries to find a way to be herself. I think this would work well with middle-school/early high school....more
I really really wanted to really like this. How's that for an articulate sentence? It has that slightly hazy childhood quality to it, with a slightlyI really really wanted to really like this. How's that for an articulate sentence? It has that slightly hazy childhood quality to it, with a slightly Zilpha Keatley Snyder feel, where some of the essence of the child's worldview is captured. Plus there's a Russian diplomat in hiding, some slightly surprised family baggage, a variety of allusions to the Andersen story, and...well, it didn't quite do it for me. I would be really curious to see a child's reaction to it. The perspective shifts between the three sisters (classic fairy tale) - ages six, eleven, and fifteen. I would guess that the audience would be those between eleven and fifteen - there are allusions to adultery and an attempted suicide. A lot of the story, though, is told from Matilda's perspective - the six year old - and I'm curious about how that would sit with older readers. I have the feeling that if I reread it - which apparently I would have to do to give a coherent review - I would pick up on more subtext and symbolism, and the loose ends would tie themselves together. But should that be necessary?...more