I'm glad I read this book, not because I liked it or learned anything, but because it vindicates my childhood dislike of juvenile "literary" novels. AI'm glad I read this book, not because I liked it or learned anything, but because it vindicates my childhood dislike of juvenile "literary" novels. An odd jumble of ideas barely grounded in reality, this book attempts to be poetic and meaningful but twists in on itself to become a vague, pointless mess. I have enjoyed Kate DiCamillo's work in the past and respect her as an author, but this book was too vague and strange to satisfy me.
The characters had potential, but there was hardly any plot development - the whole book was carried through on the strength of the premise, which I found rather weak and unappealing. If the premise interests you, you may be one of the vast majority who finds this book is delightful, but otherwise, you can pass. There is no compelling plot, crucial story elements are vague and unexplained, and the prose is chock-full of repetitive, meaningless ideas and leitmotifs. If you want to read a novel about someone who stretches/curls her toes on almost every page and constantly relates surrounding events to the imagined size, brightness, or weight of her soul, that's okay, but I found it wearying and almost laughable. Other DiCamillo books employ literary devices in a beautiful, understated way where you only identify them if you are reading analytically, but here, even though she used many of the same techniques, instead of creating a well-rounded and deep story, the literary devices made the novel seem self-conscious and contrived. I am glad that this book has brought joy into other people's lives, but it only brought me an opportunity for analysis and criticism....more
This book was memorable and striking, but it's not really a children's book. Unless a young reader has a firm grasp of history and has read similar noThis book was memorable and striking, but it's not really a children's book. Unless a young reader has a firm grasp of history and has read similar novels in the past, it is unlikely that they will appreciate this story, because its literary style and content are much more appropriate for adults. (Speaking of history, this book was supposedly set in the '40s, but it felt more like turn-of-the-century.)
Many of the characters were poorly fleshed out, some of the situations seemed implausible, and the book offered no resolution. Sometimes real life is like that, but in literature, an unhappy ending should make a point and be counterbalanced by significant character development. Here, the only apparent goal was encouraging sympathy for war veterans, but that did not necessitate the unhappy ending. Moreover, the main character did not grow enough to justify the otherwise meaningless tragic events of the novel. For me, it is only the quality of the prose which makes this a three-star read....more
More people died in the sinking of The Wilhelm Gustloff than from the sinking of the Titanic or Lusitania, but hardly anyone has heard of it. In 1945,More people died in the sinking of The Wilhelm Gustloff than from the sinking of the Titanic or Lusitania, but hardly anyone has heard of it. In 1945, this ship transported wounded German soldiers and Baltic refugees away from the advancing Red Army, but when the ship was hit by Russian torpedoes, thousands upon thousands died. I admire author Ruta Septys for delving into this obscure historical event and bringing it to attention, and even though I was reluctant to read a book I knew would be so depressing, my interest in World War II propelled me on.
The story is told through very brief sections/chapters, the viewpoint alternating through four teenage characters. I expected that the constant POV transitions would bother me, but Septys executed the style well and I quickly got used to it. This book was vivid, memorable, and full of life, and even though you go into it knowing that the story ends in tragedy, you do not know the individual outcome for each person and feel a level of tragic suspense as if you were watching history unfold. The writing is beautifully stated and evocative, and even though the style of short sentences is not my favorite, this was lyrical, never choppy. The writing, characterization, and sense of place were all masterful, and I am so glad that this original, unique presentation of a little-known tragedy was in the hands of such an expert.
There is nothing specific I can say about the characters, their stories, or the things I most loved, because all that would be spoilers, but there was one particular storyline that really spoke to me, and I was so pleased with the way it was handled that I got 100% more emotionally involved in the story. For me, this was the dichotomy of this book: one feels deeply, urgently concerned for the main characters, but the scale of larger atrocity evokes little feeling. There were many graphic, brutal details and descriptions of the death, decay, and horror all around, but even though I would think, "that was a great turn of phrase about violence that would have given me nightmares if I read this as a younger teen," I could rarely feel anything at all about it; the writing somehow seemed detached. I wondered if this was simply because I live a comfortable, safe life completely apart from such horrors, but I have reacted much viscerally and painfully to similar details in other stories, and see from other reviews here that I am not alone in finding the details of atrocity statistical and lifeless.
Even though I was critical and questioning about that, the stories of the main characters were very moving to me, and as I made my way through the book, wondering if any of them survived to the end, I was reminded of the incredible importance of telling these awful, tragic stories: not to develop a sense of soppy, safe sympathy, but to look horrors in the face and know that the life of every human being matters, even when one appears as just another tragic statistic in a war-torn world. I read this book not because I expected a happy ending, but because the story was based in truth. The lives of those thousands of people mattered not because they got a satisfying, tidy ending to their tale, but because they were human....more