I gifted Ruby Lu, Brave and True to my six-year-old niece last week. Fortunately, since I gifted to a family member, I was able to give it and then taI gifted Ruby Lu, Brave and True to my six-year-old niece last week. Fortunately, since I gifted to a family member, I was able to give it and then take it back to read.
Eight-year-old Ruby Lu is a delightful character and Lenore Look is an excellent writer. The story is fun, fast-paced, and very funny.
As an adult, I love this book. The characters have charming quirks: Ruby performs magic shows and wears a cape, her father knits sweaters for the entire neighborhood, and her neighbor slathers on sun block everywhere she goes.
In my favorite vignette, Ruby decides she is old enough, and capable enough, to drive a car. She creates a driver’s license, packs up her baby brother, and takes him to Chinese School. Oh my.
With this in mind, I have to wonder whether a responsible adult should let a child read this book. My niece cut her hair after reading a Junie B. Jones book. I can just imagine her trying to drive the car. As enjoyable as the book is, it just might be a manual for disaster in a child’s hands.
I also wonder how enjoyable the book would be for children. In many ways, I feel like it was written for adults, and I question if a child could enjoy the same things I do.
I guess the only way to find out is to read it to my niece. ...more
I read Cathy Caruth’s book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History for a research project I’m working on. The author is well known for heI read Cathy Caruth’s book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History for a research project I’m working on. The author is well known for her work on trauma theory.
According to Caruth, “the term trauma is understood as a wound inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind” (3). “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (11). Caruth applies trauma theory to works by Freud, Kant, and Lacan, among others.
The most interesting part of Unclaimed, though, is not found in the book itself. One chapter analyzes the French film Hiroshima mon amour in terms of trauma theory. Naturally, I immediately had to rent and watch the movie for myself.
Filmed in 1959, Hiroshima follows a French actress making a movie about “peace” in Hiroshima. She has a brief and intense sexual encounter with a Japanese man. The relationship releases the traumatic experiences both endure because of the war: the woman’s German lover is killed, and she is ostracized; the man’s family perishes in Hiroshima while he is away fighting in the war.
Perhaps the most moving element of the film, though, is the actual footage of bombing victims. I could only weep at the images of mangled, burned, and dying children.
For someone so obsessed with atrocities committed in Europe during WWII, I am ashamed for practically ignoring the carnage perpetrated by Americans. If only Caruth could tell me how to reconcile myself with this part of my own history, with the trauma inflicted by American hands....more
Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been racking in the awards. It was a 2007 National Book Award finalist and won the mother of all chiBrian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret has been racking in the awards. It was a 2007 National Book Award finalist and won the mother of all children’s awards: the 2008 Caldecott Medal.
Hugo Cabret is a young French orphan with many secrets. He lives in a Paris train station where he keeps the clocks running, but his life changes when he meets a toy seller and his goddaughter.
The book’s thickness, at over 500 pages, is initially intimidating. Physically, the tome is unwieldy and difficult to handle for an adult, so I can only imagine the troubles a child might have. Ultimately, though, a majority of the book is illustrations, so reading it is not difficult.
Unfortunately, for a Caldecott winner, I was more interested in the story than the illustrations. I cared more about what happened to Hugo Cabret than looking at pictures about him. And I was confused by some of the book’s choices, particularly its use of white space in the textual areas. In a green era, it feels inappropriate to waste so much paper and space.
I was also a bit disappointed that Selznick does not take greater advantage of the Parisian setting. The city could have been another character in the novel; instead, the story easily could have taken place in any city. I always long for scenes and illustrations of Paris, and this book did not satisfy my cravings. Indeed, I was more interested in the illustrations not created by Selznick—clips from films, drawings by Georges Méliès, a photo of a train wreck.
The book is interesting, the illustrations nice, and the story intriguing, but I am not convinced any of it is award-winning caliber. I wonder if the book was chosen based on volume....more
I read Two Little Girls several months ago, and I was astonished by Theresa Reid's honesty. She is very open about her feelings, or lack thereof, forI read Two Little Girls several months ago, and I was astonished by Theresa Reid's honesty. She is very open about her feelings, or lack thereof, for her two adopted daughters. On several occasions, she talks about not loving her second daughter as much as her first.
I appreciate Reid's honesty. She wants to give an accurate description of the adoption process (or, at least, her adoption process), but I couldn't help but imagine her daughters reading this account as teenagers or adults. They would definitely need therapy as much as I do.
The reviews I read about the novel, however, focused less on Reid's honesty about her children and more on her descriptions of Ukraine. One reviewer was deeply offended on behalf of Ukrainians. Reid's descriptions are bleak, often heartbreaking, and honest.
Ukraine is like a family member to me. I can say whatever I like about her, but no one outside the family has the right to make any criticisms.
But Reid's evaluation of Ukraine did not offend me. Indeed, her descriptions made me miss the country. The inconsistencies and inconveniences she comments on are two reasons why I love Ukraine. I often have nightmares that I return to the country to discover it completely Westernized....more
I was a little reluctant when I picked up After the Dancing Days today. I have memories of loving this book, memories of sobbing at the end. Clearly,I was a little reluctant when I picked up After the Dancing Days today. I have memories of loving this book, memories of sobbing at the end. Clearly, I was obsessed with romance as a preteen. All I cared about when I read the book was Annie and Andrew’s potential romance. And I obviously missed Margartet Rotkowski’s point.
This book is not a romance. Andrew is a severely wounded WWI veteran; Annie is thirteen. Clearly, I had no issues with a May/December romance as a teeny bopper, but as an adult, I was relieved to discover that the romance was mostly a concoction of my imagination (and Annie’s).
In reality, the book is about acceptance. Rotkowski is not shy about advocating women’s rights, victim’s rights, and tolerance. This message is clear to me now—and I’m afraid for my twelve-year-old self that I completely missed it the first time....more
After finishing Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime Division novel, I couldn’t resist picking up Arthur Geisert’s picture book Nursery Crimes.
In this case,After finishing Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime Division novel, I couldn’t resist picking up Arthur Geisert’s picture book Nursery Crimes.
In this case, the word nursery refers to a place where plants grow. A couple, Jambo and Marva, moves from France to Iowa to start a tree nursery. Unfortunately for the couple, and their twelve children, someone keeps stealing their topiaries. Jambo and Marva fret over money and plot to catch the thieves.
The storyline is rather serious—particularly when the couple expresses money woes—but the illustrations save the book from absolute dreariness. Without the pictures, I would never have known that Jambo, Marva, and their children are pigs. I also wouldn’t know they live in a railroad station/school bus.
Despite the charming illustrations, and they are charming, the story just might cause both children and parents financial nightmares....more
The “two short novels” in Claire Messud’s The Hunters could have been written by two different authors: the writing style, themes, and tones vary drasThe “two short novels” in Claire Messud’s The Hunters could have been written by two different authors: the writing style, themes, and tones vary drastically.
The first novella, “A Simple Tale,” centers around Maria, a “displaced person” in Canada (i.e., a WWII-era Ukrainian refugee). She works as a housekeeper, abandoning her old life without fully embracing the new. As she watches her employer deteriorate due to old age, Maria questions the authenticity of the life she’s built in Toronto.
In the second novella, “The Hunters,” an unnamed narrator recounts the summer he (or is it she?) spends researching death in London. S/he grows obsessed with her downstairs neighbor, a dumpy middle-aged woman who lives with her ailing mother and is a professional caregiver. The narrator describes Ridley as needy and aggressive, yet it is the narrator who creates a fantasy world surrounding her.
The premise of the novella is intriguing, but the narrator’s rambling internal dialogue is often confusing and off putting. Scenes with Ridley’s rabbits, the titular Hunters, are bizarrely reminiscent of the Shelley Winters’ camp film What’s the Matter with Helen?
Perhaps what intrigues—and disturbs—me most about Messud’s writing is her choice of vocabulary. Intriguing: her multiple use of the word “fug.” I’m trying to seamlessly weave the word into an everyday conversation. Disturbing: her narrator’s description of Ridley as almost “mongoloid” in appearance. I felt like I was reading a book written by a 90-year-old man and not a young woman.
Messud has an interesting perspective and imagination. Stylistically speaking, I was more comfortable with the straightforward “A Simple Tale” than the sometimes-incoherent “The Hunters,” but I’m impressed with her willingness to take chances as a writer....more
**spoiler alert** Louis Plummer’s The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman I was surprised and delighted to come across Finding Daddy in the library last**spoiler alert** Louis Plummer’s The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman I was surprised and delighted to come across Finding Daddy in the library last week. It’s been years since Plummer released a new book, so I felt as if I’d stumbled across a treasure.
Although not nearly as appealing as Unlikely Romance, Finding Daddy starts with a similarly light tone. Mira Kent is a teenager with a loyal best friend, a dreamy boyfriend, and a strong desire to find her biological father.
The writing is a bit awkward, and I felt like I’d fallen into a time warp with teenagers named Barry, Ted, and Joe, but I was willing to forgive these weaknesses in hopes of some charm and romance.
SPOILER ALERT: I was in for a huge disappointment. The book’s tone and content change dramatically midway through. The magic of teenage love is suddenly replaced with terror, torture, and bloodshed. Mira makes incredibly stupid and frustrating mistakes, and I found it difficult to like and sympathize with her.
Overall, I found the novel’s tone and content disturbing. This reaction may be because I was expecting an entirely different book, but a sense of unease followed me for several hours after finishing Finding Daddy.
If you are looking for a disturbing YA novel, this is the book for you. If you want a romantic romp, pick up The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman instead....more
This weekend, I chatted with my sister-in-law’s sister (could I get more complicated?) about the latest Harry Potter movie. Although I’ve read all theThis weekend, I chatted with my sister-in-law’s sister (could I get more complicated?) about the latest Harry Potter movie. Although I’ve read all the books (only once), I would not consider myself a Harry Potter fanatic. As such, I only have vague memories of Order of the Phoenix.
I do remember being rather put off by Harry’s bad attitude. He was grumpy, moody, and often just plain rude. And I did not like it at all.
Some would argue he was just acting like a typical teenager. And that may be so. I’m sure teenage boys can be moody and rude. And that’s exactly why I do not hang out with teenage boys (oh, and because it would be rather odd and disturbing behavior from a grown woman).
When I read for pleasure, I want the experience to be, well, pleasurable. I do not want to be annoyed by moody teenagers in my free time. I take no enjoyment from that.
I had a similar experience with Smiling for Strangers by Gaye Hiçyilmaz. Granted, I did not read this book for pleasure, but I found Nina’s bad attitude irritating.
Nina has a difficult life, and she has plenty of reasons to be moody. Her family is killed in the Bosnian conflict. She escapes into Italy and then to England. Finally, she finds refuge with an old friend of her mother’s, Paul Fellows.
Nina has seen death, suffered deprivations, and traveled a thousand of miles for safety. She has every reason to be angry and upset.
Yet, her bad behavior doesn’t start until after she finds refuge with Paul. He gives her food, clothing, and a home. And she responds to him with anger, rudeness, and ingratitude.
Logically, I know a teenage girl moving in with a complete stranger in a foreign country could not be a smooth transition. But would it be completely unbearable?
Perhaps Hiçyilmaz’s account is realistic and accurate—in fact, it probably is. If nothing else, the book serves as a good reminder of why I decided not to teach high school (or junior high for that matter). College students have enough attitude as it is.
I was absolutely intrigued by the title of Anne Bates Linden’s book Assumptions and Misunderstandings: Memoir of an Unwitting Spy. Unfortunately, LindI was absolutely intrigued by the title of Anne Bates Linden’s book Assumptions and Misunderstandings: Memoir of an Unwitting Spy. Unfortunately, Linden and I have different definitions of the word “spy.” Basically, she suggests to Ukrainians in the early 1990s, all Americans were spies. This may be an accurate observation, but it doesn’t make for an enthralling read.
Instead of an exciting memoir, Assumptions reads like a middle-aged woman’s journal—which is basically what it is. In fact, even the book’s publication is far from professional. The text is littered with errors and entire sections appear to be missing.
Linden shares a few experiences she had as one of the first members of the United States Peace Corps in newly independent Ukraine. Having lived in Ukraine, I could relate to many of her experiences: long lines, erratic water and electricity, “KGB” interference. However, we approached them in very different manners, which made me lose sympathy for her. She seems to be shocked and appalled by the “inconveniences” of living in Ukraine (and Europe, in general). Talk about cultural imperialism.
Ultimately, though, because of my interest in Ukraine, I wanted to read Linden’s memoir. I was disappointed that it ends after she has been in Ukraine for a year and has lost her interpreter (she gives no explanation as to why) and her job with the local government.
Yet, she states earlier that she spent three years in the country. So what did she do for the next two years? Where did she work? Did she ever learn the language? The book is less than stellar, but I wanted to know what happened and wish Linden had been willing to tell me....more