I was impressed with Robert Olmstead's spare, lyrical prose in this coming-of-age novel set during the Civil War. Robey Childs is a 14-year-old boy li...moreI was impressed with Robert Olmstead's spare, lyrical prose in this coming-of-age novel set during the Civil War. Robey Childs is a 14-year-old boy living on an isolated farm in the region which is now West Virginia. His mother has a premonition that Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson has died, and that her husband is in danger. She sends her only child on a journey to find his father, and bring him home. A neighboring shopkeeper gives him an experienced coal black horse to ride. The mythical wise horse has great endurance, and seems to sense when Robey might be getting into a dangerous situation. As the boy travels over the mountains, and then north to Gettysburg, he encounters both good and dangerous people. He loses his innocence as he has to steal to survive, and sees the horrors of war. He finds his father seriously wounded on the battlefield.
Robey comforts a group of dying soldiers, including one with phantom pain due to the loss of a limb, and protects them from some nearby animals. "When he returned to the soldier who had endured the phantom pain, he was going to tell him that maybe he was blind because God thought he'd seen enough for one life, but when he arrived at his side he found him to be dead. On his chest was the revolver, a six-shot Remington. It was loaded and he understood that the soldier had left it for him. He also came to understand that he was finally finished with his believing in God."
Robey can't save the dying soldiers, but he honors them by burying the dead. He also helps a girl escape a bad situation. His experiences change him from an innocent youth to a young man who has learned about life during his journey.
I highly recommend Coal Black Horse for both adults and older teens. Olmstead's language is beautiful, and the plot is fast-moving. There is also a reader's guide and an author interview at the back of the book that would be helpful for book groups or class discussions.(less)
Quentin "Q" Jacobsen has been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, since he was a child. The independent, outrageous Margo runs with the...moreQuentin "Q" Jacobsen has been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, since he was a child. The independent, outrageous Margo runs with the popular crowd. Quentin and his friends are the geeks. A few weeks before their high school graduation, Margo climbs through Quentin's window and leads him into a crazy night of exacting revenge against her cheating boyfriend and others who have hurt her. Then she disappears, leaving clues for Quentin. He doesn't know if she is suicidal so he feels he must find her.
The book is witty and clever, perfect for older teens. The mystery has lots of action, except for a lull in the middle when the clues don't seem to lead anywhere. The book also has a deeper side with quotes from "Leaves of Grass" and other literature. It has thought-provoking questions about identity. Do we truly know others as real people, or just as an ideal that we put up on a pedestal?
The screenwriting team that worked on John Green's The Fault in Our Stars will be adapting Paper Towns into a movie. Paper Towns has the potential to be made into a popular movie, although it probably will not have as much crossover appeal to adults as The Fault in Our Stars. Paper Towns' setting in Orlando, Florida, where the author spent his childhood, should bring back memories to readers and moviegoers of one of America's favorite vacation spots.
For readers of "The New Yorker": the June 9, 2014 issue has an excellent feature article on John Green.(less)
In this coming-of-age book, two lonely boys challenge each other to push the limits along the coast of Western Australia. It starts with contests hold...moreIn this coming-of-age book, two lonely boys challenge each other to push the limits along the coast of Western Australia. It starts with contests holding their breath underwater, then progresses to surfing. Sando, an expert surfer, acts as their mentor as they conquer more difficult waves. The adrenalin just pours out of the pages as the young surfers take bigger risks for the high sensation of riding a perfect wave. "When you make it, when you're still alive and standin' at the end, you get this tingly electric rush. You feel alive, completely awake and in your body. Man, it's like you've felt the hand of God." An injured skier is also featured in the book. When she can no longer do her extreme skiing, she finds an even more dangerous way to get the intense excitement she craves.
"Breath" was narrated by Pikelet, one of the two boys who is now a middle-aged man looking back to his teens. The teen years were a time to learn about challenges, sex, and friendships which can take new directions. Pikelet is now working as a paramedic, a job that also gets the adrenalin moving. In addition to a good story, the book had wonderful settings--the old mill town of Sawyer and the rugged Australian coast with the waves crashing in.(less)
"Fangirl" is a coming of age story about Cath as she starts her first year of university in Nebraska. Cath's more outgoing twin, Wren, is living at a...more"Fangirl" is a coming of age story about Cath as she starts her first year of university in Nebraska. Cath's more outgoing twin, Wren, is living at a nearby dorm, and has big plans to party and meet the frat guys. Cath is an avid fan of Simon Snow, a literary character similar to Harry Potter, and has many followers who read her fanfiction. She is so caught up with writing Simon Snow fanfiction that she is not moving on with her life. Her quirky roommate, a special guy, and a persistent professor help her see her potential. Cath and Wren's parents also have individual issues that add to the story.
This is a YA book with humorous dialogue that shows the different sides of the freshman college experience. Cath initially seemed extremely isolated and unfriendly to others. This was the first time she had to navigate the world without her twin, so even going to dinner at the cafeteria seemed daunting. The college students were realistic, especially Wren who doesn't know how much alcohol she can handle.
Along with Cath's story, there are sections of the book with Simon Snow's adventures from both the "original author" and from Cath's fanfiction. Although I had heard of fanfiction before, I did not realize how many writers there were online using published authors' characters, and creating their own stories. Since I only read the first Harry Potter book, I can't evaluate how closely the Simon Snow experiences mimic Harry Potter's. The book is fun in many ways--as a coming of age story, as a cute "first love" romance, and as a window into the world of fanfiction.(less)
Like Jeanette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, this novel features a self-centered, unstable parent neglecting the children. Fifteen-year-old...more3.5 stars
Like Jeanette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, this novel features a self-centered, unstable parent neglecting the children. Fifteen-year-old Liz and twelve-year-old Bean are abandoned in California with some money for chicken pot pies when their mother goes off to "find the magic again." When she does not return, they board a bus for rural Virginia where their Uncle Tinsley lives. It's a big adjustment to be living in a 1970s Southern mill town during the first year of school integration.
The book is narrated by Bean, a strong, spunky girl with a lot of the same spirit as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, which she is studying at school. Bean and Liz get jobs in the household of Jerry Maddox, the town bully and mill manager. After Liz goes through a terrifying incident, the girls decide to seek justice.
Bean was a smart, spirited girl that occasionally seemed too mature for a twelve-year-old, and acted like a child at other times. While much of the plot was expected once the girls were hired by Jerry Maddox, the book still kept my interest. There were some sweet and funny scenes when Liz bonded with some escaped emus near the end of the book. "Both she and the emus wanted to fly--they just didn't have the wings they needed."(less)
Even before I started reading it, I was impressed with the beauty of this book with its thick pages, and full page images of Mexican Loteria cards bef...moreEven before I started reading it, I was impressed with the beauty of this book with its thick pages, and full page images of Mexican Loteria cards before each vignette. Loteria is similiar to bingo, except that images are used instead of numbers. The dealer sings a riddle for each image, and the players cover the images. The Loteria card "La Rosa" is on the cover of the book.
Refusing to speak, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo is in a home run by the state after some tragic events. She is looking at her Loteria cards and writing in a journal. Each card seems to spark a memory about her life. She and her Mexican-American family live in Texas a few hours north of the Mexican border. While there were happy times and love in her life, the family members were victims of many violent outbursts and abuse as well.
For the Loteria card "La Botella" (the bottle), Luz writes about her father, "I just wanted to know where it came from, to figure out why he did what he did because it wasn't coming from him. It was coming from that man in the bottle, Don Pedro." This is the story of a complex family situation seen through the eyes of a young girl who still remains devoted to her father. Luz is too young to completely process all the family has gone through, and to understand what is "normal" behavior in a family. Her father himself was a victim of an abusive father.
There are many Spanish phrases throughout the book. Although I only know a few Spanish words, the meanings of many of the phrases could be understood because of the context. But translations of the Spanish words would have been helpful.
The author was a contemporary ballet dancer for seventeen years before turning to a new career in writing. Loteria is his first novel.(less)
David Mitchell has written a superb coming-of-age book about a thirteen-year-old in the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestorshire. In a semi-autob...moreDavid Mitchell has written a superb coming-of-age book about a thirteen-year-old in the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestorshire. In a semi-autobiographical novel written in thirteen chapters that almost read like short stories, it shows the life of Jason Taylor during a year. It's not easy for Jason, a quiet thoughtful boy who wants to be a poet, in a village full of bullies and in a home with quarreling parents. Jason has a stammer that he refers to as the "Hangman" and he learns to be a walking thesaurus in order to avoid the letters "s" and "n" that might trip him up. He also has another voice in his head that he thinks of as "Unborn Twin" that makes comic or fearful comments in tough social situation.
But Jason also has some good times with his mates out in the woods. He is drawn to both the exotic gypsies camping in the woods, and an old lady who is a healer. The woods are a place of refuge for him. He thinks, "Picked-on kids act invisible to reduce the chances of being noticed and picked on. Stammerers act invisible to reduce the chances of being made to say something we can't. Kids whose parents argue act invisible in case we trigger another skirmish. The Triple Invisible Boy, that's Jason Taylor. Even I don't see the real Jason Taylor much these days, 'cept for when we're writing a poem, or occasionally in a mirror, or just before sleep. But he comes out in the woods....I'd love to work with trees....What tree cares if you can't spit your words out?"
Jason publishes his poetry in a church paper under the name "Eliot Bolivar" which sounds more lyrical to him than his given name. He enjoys discussions about poetry and music with the aged Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, a musician's teenaged daughter in Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Eva also plays Robert Frobisher's "Cloud Atlas Sexter" on thick LPs. It was a pleasure to revisit those characters from Mitchell's prior book.
Jason experiences the thrill of his first kiss during this year. He also is introduced to the reality of death and the complexity of politics since the book was set in 1982 during the Falkland War.
I enjoyed the month to month journey with Jason. David Mitchell is such a remarkable writer that the reader will laugh and hurt along with Jason as he grows and copes with being an adolescent.(less)
For no known reason, the rotation of the earth began to slow with both the days and nights becoming longer. Gravity became stronger, tides became more...moreFor no known reason, the rotation of the earth began to slow with both the days and nights becoming longer. Gravity became stronger, tides became more extreme, and maganetic fields were disturbed. The story is told through the eyes of a middle-schooler, Julia, who is also dealing with the normal pressures of growing up. In addition to its unusual, inventive premise, the book has wonderful characters that seem very real as they try to cope with the challenges. It takes a special resiliance to keep going when you don't know what the next day will bring. Described in the author's beautiful prose, the earth's creatures and plants are harmed by this new environment,reminding us to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the world we live in. I was a little surprised that there was not more looting and fighting as the crisis went on, especially to obtain food. This story was a quick page-turner that I will be recommending to my friends.(less)
The family of Ruth and Lucille have been hit often with deathly tragedies, and the girls are brought up in a house in Idaho built by their grandfather...moreThe family of Ruth and Lucille have been hit often with deathly tragedies, and the girls are brought up in a house in Idaho built by their grandfather. After their mother's death, they are cared for by their grandmother, then two great aunts, and finally an eccentric aunt named Sylvie. The house itself begins to take shape as a character as well, with descriptions of its uneven floors, its drafty rooms, and a collection of cans, bottles, and newspapers that their unusual aunt never throws away.
The town of Fingerbone is known for its large lake with a long railroad bridge crossing it. The lake has a sad history since a train derailed years ago while crossing the bridge. The lake swallowed up the train and its passengers, including the girls' grandfather. Both the lake and the bridge provide a sense of danger and foreboding.
The author writes very lyrically about the lake, the house, loneliness, loss, and transiency. The book had an ending that I was not expecting, but made sense considering the personalities of Ruth and Sylvie. This is a slow-moving story, to be read for its beautiful prose that borders on the poetic.(less)
Holden Caulfield is a directionless, rebellious teenager in 1949. He has been kicked out of his third boarding school, and he spends several days in N...moreHolden Caulfield is a directionless, rebellious teenager in 1949. He has been kicked out of his third boarding school, and he spends several days in New York City while he avoids a confrontation with his parents. He has rejected the traditional American Dream, and feels like most people are phonies. He spends a few days drinking, spending money, making phone calls he doesn't complete, and feeling lonely before he has a breakdown. In his narration of the past, Holden is self-centered, cynical, and confused. The only people he trusts are childrn, such as his sister Phoebe, who are innocent and kind.
Although the book was written with 1940s teenage slang, the ideas would be relevant to teenagers today. The book is depressing in many ways, but Holden's sense of humor also comes through. Holden is able to see the lies and phoniness in the adult world. Unfortunately, he is not able to see that he is also creating many of his problems with other people. He has a sweet, caring side that comes out in his relationships with his sister Phoebe, his deceased brother Allie, his friend Jane Gallagher, and with a couple of nuns he meets in a coffee shop. Holden is so overwhelmed, depressed, and directionless that I was left wondering what his fate would be after he finished therapy. The author has written a coming-of-age book that is still relevant in today's world.(less)
As an only child in Antigua, Annie John had a close relationship with her parents, especially her mother. When she becomes an adolescent, she is at th...moreAs an only child in Antigua, Annie John had a close relationship with her parents, especially her mother. When she becomes an adolescent, she is at the top of her class, but she rebels outside the classroom. She and her mother are in a love/hate relationship in this coming-of-age book. It's a very confusing time emotionally for Annie as she goes through adolescence and breaks away from her parents.
Jamaica Kincaid writes beautifully. I especially enjoyed the local color--the descriptions of the food, the island, the school, and the native healers. Coming-of-age is a universal condition, but this author told it in a very creative way.(less)
The author, Eve Ensler, founded V-Day. Its goal is to stop violence against girls and women worldwide. This book was chosen to be this year's One Book to be discussed in the capital city in my state.(less)
Out Stealing Horses is told by Trond Sander, an older man making a new home for himself in a forested area of Norway. He thinks back to the important...moreOut Stealing Horses is told by Trond Sander, an older man making a new home for himself in a forested area of Norway. He thinks back to the important experiences of his youth, especially the summer he spent with his father outside a rural village when Trond was fifteen years old. He learns about a secret side of his father that year. This is both a coming of age book, and a story about family, especially a father-son relationship.
The book is told in quiet, reflective prose, slowly letting us in to the mysteries of Trond's life. The author leaves us with vivid pictures of Trond as a vigorous teenager, and again as a sixty-seven year old man, dealing with the aches of aging, who is drifting toward solitude. The descriptions of Norway are also beautiful.(less)
Nineteen-year-old Ed Kennedy lives a boring life as a cabdriver with no ambition, and his social life consists of card games with old friends. He has...moreNineteen-year-old Ed Kennedy lives a boring life as a cabdriver with no ambition, and his social life consists of card games with old friends. He has fallen for Audrey, his best friend, but she dates other guys as boyfriends. Everything in his life is routine until he becomes a hero stopping a bank robbery.
Then a playing card is delivered to him--an ace of diamonds--with addresses for him to visit. As he observes the people at the addresses, he thinks about what they need. He learns to care about and to help others. Some of his simple acts of kindness are just wonderful. More playing cards with additional messages are then delivered to him, and Ed matures as he becomes more involved with life and with other people. But he has no clue where these messages are coming from.
This was an enjoyable book with good characters and lots of humor. I was very impressed with Markus Zusak's creativity in this coming-of-age novel.(less)
Kimberly Chang and her widowed mother emigrate from Hong Kong, and do not receive the help they had been promised when they reach New York City. They...moreKimberly Chang and her widowed mother emigrate from Hong Kong, and do not receive the help they had been promised when they reach New York City. They are located to an unheated apartment, and must work in a Chinatown sweatshop doing piecework. The eleven-year-old girl, who is exceptionally intelligent, decides to get the best schooling possible while she continues to help her mother in the sweatshop after school. This is a coming-of-age book as well as a book about the immigrant experience. Kimberly feels she must choose between college which is a door to a good future, or love with a boy she cares for in Chinatown. This would be a good book for a discussion group because the choice she must make is not an easy one. (October 20, 2011)
I reread this book for a library bookgroup, and found the book very engaging the second time too. After reading about the author's background where she lived in an unheated apartment and worked in a sweatshop to help her parents, but eventually went on to Harvard, I felt the impact of the book even more. (January 9, 2013)(less)
Reread August 26, 2013: I enjoyed rereading this coming-of-age book of a first love. The story is as bitter and sweet as the title.
First read September...moreReread August 26, 2013: I enjoyed rereading this coming-of-age book of a first love. The story is as bitter and sweet as the title.
First read September 6, 2011: Twelve year old Chinese-American Henry Lee meets Japanese-American Keiko Okabe as the only Asians in a Caucasian elementary school in 1942. Their friendship and sweet romance starts as the United States enters World War II, and the people of Japanese ancestry get sent to internment camps. Henry has to deal with the wrath of his father who hates the Japanese, the bullying of his classmates, and the evacuation of Keiko's family.
The book starts in 1986 after Henry's Chinese wife dies. The belongings of the Japanese families are found in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Seatle. There are flashbacks to 1942 to their Seatle neighborhoods and to a detention camp in Idaho. The well-written story goes back and forth between the two time periods in a way that's easy to follow.
This is a tender story of a first love, but it is so much more. The book also examines father/son relationships, and the prejudice people hold against those who are different. It gives us a window to see a difficult period of American history.(less)