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.
My friend called on Sunday when I was finishing The Deathly Hollows. She was appalled. “You’re reading Harry Potter,” she said, “But you haven’t read My friend called on Sunday when I was finishing The Deathly Hollows. She was appalled. “You’re reading Harry Potter,” she said, “But you haven’t read Twilight yet?”
Over the last several months, dozens of people have told me that I must read Stephenie Meyer’s book. It—and its sequel New Moon—have been the hot books at the library where I work—and it’s an academic library.
So, I finally read Twilight. My reaction:
Meh. “M-E-H: Meh.”
Now, the book is not entirely to blame. It has suffered from all the hype surrounding it. And this is definitely not the first time I have been sorely disappointed by the hot item.
I finally saw The Sixth Sense in the dollar theater (yowzers!) and couldn’t understand why people were proclaiming it the best movie of the year.
Imagine my disappointment when I finally read The Da Vinci Code—after hearing all the outrage and news coverage—to discover the book was the nothing but dreck. Entertaining dreck, but dreck nonetheless.
Twilight is fine. It is fine, but I am confused by all the buzz. Stephenie Meyer is not a great writer—or even a good one. As embarrassing as it may be to admit, I have read plenty of romance novels in my day. And Twilight is nothing more than another romance novel.
It may be sour grapes because I am eternally single—and easily irritated by the naïveté of young love—but I wanted to retch several times at Meyer’s constant descriptions of Bella and Edwards’s physical relationship:
“I caressed his cheek, delicately stroked his eyelid, the purple shadow in the hollow under his eye. I traced the shape of his perfect nose, and then, so carefully, his flawless lips. . . . He raised his hand to my hair, then carefully brushed it across my face” (277).
Eww. Enough of the creepy touching already. Kiss properly, or do not touch at all.
Of course, since I’m addicted to series, I put New Moon on hold at my local public library. There are over a hundred people queued ahead of me. Apparently, my community is full of people who are suckers for a schmaltzy romance....more
I just finished reading Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s The Pull of the Ocean, and I am struggling with what to write about it.
Yann, the main character, is deI just finished reading Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s The Pull of the Ocean, and I am struggling with what to write about it.
Yann, the main character, is described in the book as a ten-year-old “dwarf” or “midget.” He has six older brothers—three sets of twins—and does not speak, yet he is the ringleader of the group. On Yann’s say, the seven boys run away from home, but it isn’t until the very end that we actually hear from Yann and his reasons for leaving are revealed.
The young adult book—a translation from the original French—is fascinating. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective: a social worker, a truck driver, one of Yann’s many brothers—and each chapter has a different tone to it. In many ways, it reminded me of reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
Each character has a distinct voice. For example, Yann comes from an undereducated farming family. As such, his parents do not speak fluently (or should I say, grammatically correct?) and this is reflected in their speech. More than anything, I wish I read French and could compare the English version with the original. What does redneck (forgive me for using the term, but I can’t think of a better one) French read like? I don’t know whether to credit Mourlevat for creating these distinct voices or his translator, Maudet.
Despite enjoying the book—it truly is interesting and well written—I now have a vague sense of blah as I write about it. Perhaps I have ennui (it is a French book, afterall). Perhaps I am still suffering from my self-diagnosed case of heat exhaustion. Or perhaps I really missed something in the book.
The characters refer several times to Charles Perrault’s Tom Thumb. I am vaguely familiar with the story, but I wonder if reading it would add another dimension to my understanding and appreciation of Mourlevat’s book....more
Originally published in Belgium and translated by Alexis Seigal, Deogratias is a graphic novel exploring the effects of the Rwandan genocide on DeograOriginally published in Belgium and translated by Alexis Seigal, Deogratias is a graphic novel exploring the effects of the Rwandan genocide on Deogratias, the main character.
Although this is a young adult novel, the content is very adult. Stassen does not shy away from discussing the realities of the genocide. The language and images are strong, realistic, and disturbing. As a reader, I wanted to hide from these realities, yet I felt compelled to keep reading.
The story opens with Deogratias clearly suffering from delusions and substance abuse. Stassen uses flashbacks to reveal what led to Deogratias's madness--the horrors he had both seen and committed. Stassen boldly assigns responsibility for the genocide--Belg colonizers, French "peacekeepers," European missionaries.
The U.S. edition comes with a preface by the translator. Seigal provides important historical context for the graphic novel. Interestingly, he also attempts to temper Stassen's condemnation of Europeans and places the responsibility on all actors.
This is an R-rated book with R-rated language and images. Yet, both are appropriate for the topic, and this stark book might be the closest any reader comes to visualizing--and hopefully empathizing--with this tragedy. ...more
Since My Palace of Leaves is so short—around 50 pages—I picked it up only minutes after finishing Zlata’s Diary. As I said in my previous post, I enjoSince My Palace of Leaves is so short—around 50 pages—I picked it up only minutes after finishing Zlata’s Diary. As I said in my previous post, I enjoyed Zlata’s Diary; it inspired me. Zlata’s Diary clearly also inspired Lorbiecki. In fact, there were several passages in the book that seem to be lifted directly from Diary.
I am not accusing Lorbiecki of blatant plagiarism—her writing is not nearly as eloquent as the preteen’s—but she clearly “borrows” events and descriptions from Diary. Granted, at the end of the book, Lorbiecki acknowledges that she is “thoroughly indebted to Zlata Filipović, the young Sarajevan woman who wrote Zlata’s Diary, 1994” (51). And I probably would not have realized how indebted she is to Zlata had I not just finished Diary.
I might be able to forgive Lorbiecki for being so heavily "inspired" by Filipović. I cannot forgive her writing style.
Zlata’s Diary was written originally in Croat and translated into English. Although clearly written by a young girl, the book is rarely awkward or unwieldy. In contrast, My Place of Leaves in Sarajevo is a clunker.
The book is written in epistolary form as Nadja Didović, a ten-year-old Sarajevan, corresponds with her cousin Alex in Minnesota. Nadja writes her letters in English—and English clearly is not her native language. I grudgingly admire Lorbiecki’s attempt to recreate letters written by a non-native English speaker. However, having lived in Ukraine and corresponded for years with ESL students, Lorbiecki misses the mark.
Nadja does not sound like a young Croatian-speaking girl; she sounds like a robot or Frankenstein—“Spring finally here, pretty and warm. I want to fly kite and walk in puddles and play ball in park with Ana” (24). Instead of hearing a child’s voice in my mind, I honestly heard Borat's. Nadja’s English is simply comedic in its awkwardness.
Alex’s letters, written in perfect English, read like an adult masquerading as a child—“[M]y secret spot’s behind some junk in the garage. That’s where I keep things away from my nosy sister, Judy. YECH!” (2). Although the letters span several years, neither Nadja nor Alex seem to age or mature—despite Nadja’s firsthand experience with war. And Nadja’s command of English never improves.
I know I’m being hard on this book. I genuinely respect Lorbiecki’s desire to write about this war, but there is a fine line between respecting and reverencing a topic and unintentionally creating a mockery of it. ...more
Zlata’s Diary is literally Zlata’s diary. Zlata lives in Sarajevo and starts keeping a diary in September 1991, not long before her 11th birthday. SheZlata’s Diary is literally Zlata’s diary. Zlata lives in Sarajevo and starts keeping a diary in September 1991, not long before her 11th birthday. She excels in school, enjoys fashion magazines, and watches Murphy Brown on television. Six months later, she is recording the tragedies of war.
Reading about war from a child’s perspective is an interesting experience. Zlata mentions politics several times, writing that “politics has started meddling around. It has put an ‘S’ on Serbs, an ‘M’ on Muslims, and a ‘C’ on Croats, it wants to separate them. And to do so it has chosen the worst, blackest pencil of all—the pencil of war which spells only misery and death” (97). Yet, she does not understand the significance politics plays in the war, never connecting the war with “ethnic cleansing.”
But because politics doesn’t shape or warp Zlata’s perspective, she can truly see and express how senseless war is. She records the death of friends, the destruction of her city; she suffers without electricity, gas, food, and water. Several times, she expresses anger and despair, writing “I really don’t know whether to go on living and suffering, to go on hoping, or to take a rope and just . . . be done with it” (130). Early on, Zlata asks the most profound question of all:
“God, is anyone thinking of us here in Sarajevo?” (85).
I am only three years older than Zlata. If I heard about Bosnia, if we talked about the war in school, I have no recollection. Most everything I know about the genocide I learned years later as an adult. ...more
Christopher Creed has disappeared. Three teenagers, feeling guilty over their past treatment of Christopher, try to solve the mystery and are convinceChristopher Creed has disappeared. Three teenagers, feeling guilty over their past treatment of Christopher, try to solve the mystery and are convinced Creed’s mother is to blame. The premise is interesting, and overall, the book is an enjoyable read—though the culminating scene at the end is rather confusing and leaves something to be desired....more
I’m not sure how this book ended up in the “mystery” genre. Granted, Aimee is dead and her best friend, Zoe, is connected to the death. More than anytI’m not sure how this book ended up in the “mystery” genre. Granted, Aimee is dead and her best friend, Zoe, is connected to the death. More than anything, though, the book explores Zoe’s depression following Aimee’s death. The tone is dark and depressing and the writing lacks fluidity, so and I found it difficult to slog through. I also found the story terribly frustrating as the actual means of Aimee’s death is skirted around for the entire book. Perhaps, Mary Beth Miller meant to keep the reader guessing, but I found the ploy disingenuous—and l almost quit reading the book because of it....more
Not long ago, I read in the American Library Association newsletter that the young adult book What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones had been bannNot long ago, I read in the American Library Association newsletter that the young adult book What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones had been banned in several libraries. It reveals a lot about my character that I immediately wanted to read the book.
Doesn’t Know was available where I work. The library actually has “locked cases” to store books that are valuable, delicate, or deemed somehow inappropriate. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered Sones’s book on the ordinary shelves. How scandalous could it be if even the most stone-cold sober university in the nation hasn’t censored it?
The answer? Not scandalous at all. In fact, I found it rather a bore. First, the book is written in free verse. I know it is entirely hypocritical from a girl who wrote a collection of poetry for her thesis, but I found the format a drag.
Second, try as I might, I found no scandalous content. True, there is one mention of breasts, but that is it. Overall, I was thoroughly disappointed with the book and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone—not because it is ban-worthy but because it just isn’t a bit interesting. Sigh....more
Cass McBride has been kidnapped, and her story is told from multiple viewpoints: the investigators, the suspects, Cass herself. The story arch can beCass McBride has been kidnapped, and her story is told from multiple viewpoints: the investigators, the suspects, Cass herself. The story arch can be rather confusing, but Gail Giles does a fine job of creating sympathy—and dislike—for both Cass and her kidnapper. ...more