Monthly Archives: November 2013

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green tells the story of 16-year-old Hazel Grace, who suffers from stage V thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. 
 
The story is told through Hazel’s perspective. Since Hazel is an openminded and intelligent person, it makes the story very interesting. Her unique perspective helps you to see how a person would positively deal with having cancer and not being ’normal’.
 
I don’t find the characters very realistic. I cannot identify with a person who is suffering from cancer as I have neither felt their pains or worried about immediate death. Since the majority of the characters so far have been cancer patients, I can’t identify with any of them. However, Hazel’s mother seems realistic to me as I can identify with her. Hazel’s mother is constantly worrying about Hazel’s health, as well as all other aspects of Hazel’s life. I have an uncle with down syndrome, and my family and I will always worry about him, like Hazel’s mother worries about her. This makes Hazel’s mother a more tangible character for me.
 
Another thing I found interesting about the cancer patients was their sense of humor, specifically Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac. Even though all three kids have suffered a lot for someone who is only sixteen, the book is kept light by having humors jokes. For example, when Isaac is discussing his eye surgery that will render him blind he states that he would rather be deaf. The nurse responds by saying that eye surgery can’t do that. Isaac reacts by saying “Thank you for explaining that my eye cancer isn’t going to make me deaf. I feel so fortunate that an intellectual giant like yourself would deign to operate on me.” Even though Isaac is going blind to remove his cancer, he still is able to keep himself from despair by using sarcastic remarks and joking around. I thought it interesting that John Green, the author, would keep a book about cancer patients so light through the use of humor, versus other books I’ve read about cancer patients were it is depressing.
 
So far, though the book is enjoyable, I have not found it captivating. It is unique but, at least not yet, a page turner for me. However, I feel that there is more to the book than what I read in the first 90 pages, and am curious to find out more about each character and what will happen.
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“The Book Thief” Markus Zusak

When I started to read this book, I was excited. I still am. This book has not let me down yet, and I doubt it will. The Book Thief is a tale of a young foster child in the Holocaust. Now, one would think that the girl, Liesel, would be the narrator. In fact, that assumption is dead wrong. The book is told from the perspective of the “Grim Reaper”. Many readers might object to this perspective due to the fact that it is unconventional and sort of a fantasy narrator. I actually quite enjoy the perspective because it adds a bit of humor, and provides historical information that Liesel would not have known; due to the fact that she has not been fully educated and is young when the book begins. The Grim Reaper tells the story as he saw it unfold, captivated by Liesel, who he “lovingly” calls the “Book Thief”. Hence the title of the book. 

The one thing that was confusing about The Book Thief was the introduction. The reader has not been introduced to who the narrator is, and I found myself very confused. The Grim Reaper starts out talking about colors and Liesel, which left me feeling lost about the story. I pushed on though, hoping it would get better, which it did. I guess one would say that this introduction is like someone is having a conversation with you. That format works with some, but not for me; at least when I first began this book. As I read on, it became easier to read and I found myself enjoying this style of writing. I have never encountered a Holocaust book written this way, and I have read quite a lot due to the fact that I enjoy that genre immensely. The Book Thief is also different from normal Holocaust books in another way. This book touches upon the view of a child in the Holocaust, but what is different is that the child is not Jewish. In this genre of books, the view is most likely Jewish, The Book Thief though, is told from a girl who is in Hitler Youth.

What I love most about this book is that it captivates the reader. I am always excited to turn the page and find out what happens next. This novel is definitely a “page-turner”. It is soon turning into one of my favorite books I have read this year. I can not wait to read more about Liesel’s journey in Nazi Germany. 

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“Lifeof Pi” by Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a genius novel full of vivid descriptions and imagery.  So far, I have enjoyed Life of Pi, but I admit the book was not at all what I had expected it to be.  I saw a small clip of the movie at Costco one day, and Pi was stranded in the middle of the ocean fighting off flying fish with a tiger.  I first opened the book ready to read pages full of action and suspense, but I soon discovered Life of Pi was the exact opposite of what I had anticipated (the first few pages were about Pi’s expertise with sloths).  Even though Life of Pi does not have the most exciting plot, there are many other qualities of the book that make it better than an action book. The main character, Pi, has original thoughts on what most people would take for granted as ordinary.  His thoughtfulness encourages the reader to do some thinking of his own, and the topics discussed in Life of Pi are all interesting.  Along with Pi’s unique ideas, I especially enjoyed his witty analogies.  In one part of the book he compares zoo animals with alcoholic guests at a hotel, giving the reader a new perspective of how most things one sees are not how they appear to be.  Not all of Pi’s ideas are very clear though, and there are some parts of the book that are a little mysterious.  Every time I encounter another chapter in italics, I wonder why the author chose to include the chapter.  So far, they do not seem to contribute much to the plot or themes.  I am also curious to see how Pi’s devotion to religion and the zoo will tie in with the rest of the story.

There are two things that affect Pi’s life the most: religion and the zoo.  The zoo is Pi’s home, and he spends a lot of time there.  I can relate to Pi because I feel the same way about dance.  It is nice having a place to belong, and I think most people have a sanctuary where they feel completely comfortable, whether it is in their room reading or somewhere else.  Also, I do not know much about people’s lives in India, but Pi’s life seems so normal compared to an average American child.  He goes to school, swims, and spends time at the zoo, where his father works.  He spends time doing the same activities as many kids, but he treats life differently from most high-schoolers I know.  He is very devoted to what he does, whether it is part of his religion or just swimming to please his grandfather.  Pi is also very open-minded.  I found it shocking that even though he practices three religions, he still respects the views of Mr. Kumar, an atheist.  It seems like Pi lets others influence his opinions, but he has developed his own opinions enough to be independent.  Pi is an interesting character, and I am excited to see where the next twenty-five chapters will take him.

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“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is, unlike many books I have read recently, a nice, quick, and easy piece of literature. Judging from the speed by which I managed to progress through roughly a third of the novel in only a few days, I would say that it is a worthy break from books like Cold Sassy Tree  which took seemingly forever to finish. Quite fortunately, Ray Bradbury’s concise writing style does not compromise on content. Plenty of  thought-provoking material is provided, with interesting characters and a detailed dystopian setting quite superbly conveyed over the course of the first few dozen pages. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is an ordinary fireman who, unlike the firemen of today, is tasked with starting fires rather than stopping them. His entire job consists of going to the houses of people who possess forbidden books, soaking said houses with kerosene, setting the entire place ablaze to destroy the books, and quickly leaving while the conflagration dies down on its own. The prospect of enormous firestorms sweeping through the suburbs as a result of this is only addressed by the somewhat laughable excuse that the houses are somehow completely fireproof, which tasks my suspension of yet does not particularly lessen the enjoyability of the story.

Aside from that detail, the setting of Fahrenheit 451  is almost chillingly realistic. In an indeterminate time in the future, American culture has become so shallow, devoid of meaning, and focused on instant gratification that people, such as the main character’s wife, immerse themselves in cheap entertainment and don’t even bother to think about things anymore. Books are banned as the knowledge and potentially offensive messages they contain are perceived as a threat to the shallow, unthinking form of docile happiness that is the cornerstone of the novel’s fictional society. This is an especially frightening scenario because a similar form of thinking seems to be slowly and insidiously creeping its way into modern media, with “reality” television sitcoms and lowest-common-denominator literature providing cheap, entertaining fodder for the masses whilst causing their critical thinking skills to atrophy. Overall, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451  presents a clear warning of the dangers that could result from a continuation of this trend.

-Post by Nic Quattromani

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“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

There is no argument as to the quality of Jane Austen’s writing. Her style is very eloquent and sophisticated, and honestly, reading Pride and Prejudice makes me feel somewhat ashamed of my own writing abilities. However, the complexity of Austen’s writing can become slightly confusing for people who don’t live in high society England in the 1800’s. Because the characters are trying to be so tactful, it takes them a page of very complex, subtle language to make a criticism that people in the modern world would make in a few blunt words. This doesn’t really bother me, though. Actually, I find it a bit funny at times. When someone makes a terse, simple comment like Elizabeth’s criticism of Mr. Darcy, I can tell that she must be really mad.

One of the best aspects of Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s characterization. So far, my favorite character is definitely Mr. Darcy.  Even though Elizabeth believes him to be a snobby, self-centered, conceited man, I find him quite interesting and endearing. I would love to read a version of Pride and Prejudice written from his perspective. Elizabeth is very smart, and it is certainly nice to see  this kind of female role model, but reading about her can sometimes frustrate me. I already know the plot of Pride and Prejudice, so when I see her do specific things that I know aren’t going to end well, I’m slightly peeved. I often think, “oh, my goodness, open your eyes!” to some of her actions. Of course, this is a mark of a good novel–caring about what happens, and feeling something towards the events that transpire.

Because the characters are so well-developed and are especially critical to Pride and Prejudice, I often wish that the narration was first-person. It would be so fascinating to see exactly what was going on inside the heads of some of the characters (except for Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet, who drive me absolutely insane). I know that most novels of Austen’s time were written in third-person, and it is very helpful because readers can catch glimpses of each character’s thoughts rather than focusing in on one person, but I still think a first-person account from Darcy or Elizabeth, or even Jane could be wonderful.

What I love most about Pride and Prejudice so far is that it teaches a very understandable lesson about judgements and prejudice. When I read about racism and genocides, I think of prejudice on a very large scale, but prejudice can be small, like Elizabeth’s inaccurate judgements of Mr. Darcy. No one in our English class is going to go out and persecute an entire population, but we will all constantly make little judgements about the people around us, even though we shouldn’t. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth is an example of two people truly getting to know and understand one another, and realizing that prejudice blinded their opinions of each other and damaged their relationship.

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Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

From the very beginning, Fahrenheit 451 was a gripping and fast-paced novel.  It did not take me very long to realize that the plot is set in a future dystopian world.  I had trouble putting the book down and quickly finished part one.  Normally, I am not a huge fan of dystopian novels, but there is something unique about Fahrenheit 451 that grabbed my attention.  In my opinion, such a book should serve as a warning for the future or an eye-opening reminder, not simply a horror story for entertainment’s sake.

We live in an age when technology is rapidly becoming more and more a part of our lives.  It seems that we always have to be kept busy and entertained, especially in the case of our smart phones.  Montag’s wife Mildred is very similar to people today, but she is more caught up in technology than we are because society provides her with easier and more intense access to technology.  She reminds me of the sad number of people obsessed with shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Bachelorette; it seems that she knows a copious amount of information about a bunch of random people.  The “Seashells” in her ears are described as thimble radios which provide an “electronic ocean of sound” (page 10) and maintain music and talk that come in on the “shore of her unsleeping mind” (page 10).  What a frightening thought, that humans might get to that insane level of technological stimulation.

Another thing that stood out to me was the main character, who seems to be one of the few people who is not caught up in his obsessive society.  He has been unhappy his whole life without realizing it until Clarisse McClellan asks him seemingly easy questions that get him thinking.  What I find interesting is that only after many years does he realize how fanatical it is to burn books.  I never would have guessed why people burn books in the novel, and the simple answer from the Fire Captain is that people in the past had trouble accepting some books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, so they burned them to “remove their troubles.”  To me, it is a ridiculous solution to destroy so much important historical knowledge just out of discomfort.  But the mindset of the society in Fahrenheit 451 is that people should not think deeply or seek profound knowledge, but rather be content with simple information and just focus on sensual pleasure.

Fahrenheit 451 serves as a warning for our possible future.  Even if the book has an extreme take on the future, it is not unfathomable that the world could become much more technology- and stimulation-based and consequently regress.  So far, I have really enjoyed the novel, and I am excited to witness Montag’s discoveries as he explores the world of literature.

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“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

Following the relatively new trend of dystopian novels, Divergent seems to be typical story depicting a dreary world where groups of people are being divided up by the government in order to “help” the citizens discover more about themselves and benefit society the best they can. The details throughout the book are both intriguing and original but the overall concept shadows one much like the Hunger Games trilogy. A female heroine who is questioning more to life is a somewhat beaten in topic and this novel has done nothing that sets itself apart from many of the other series that are floating around in pop culture today. Though very successful, Divergent seems to lack both an original theme as well an extremely deep level of thinking and analysis.

It is relatively easy to compare our teenage heroine Beatrice or “Tris” as she renames herself later in the novel to Miss Katniss Everdeen, a pop sensation that struck millions of people with her signature bow and arrows. Both characters put on a mask of strength and act tough in order to survive in the harsh world that surrounds them when in fact each of them contain worries and doubts of their future. They are both sharp in their mind, quick on their feet, and portray the ability to think critically in stressful and possibly harmful situations. However, neither Beatrice or Katniss start at the top of the food chain and must learn how to survive in the environment they had thrown themselves into or die trying. In both novels, the heroine seeks out independance from the life that they have grown up in, shown in Divergent when Beatrice chooses Dauntless over her family’s faction, Abnegation and shown in The Hunger Games when Katniss attempts to eat the poisonous berries that end the life of her and the only other competitor, Peeta Mellark.

In the first quarter of the book, the content of Divergent has been mostly cut and dry to a point where we can understand what is happening in the story as well as what is Beatrice is thinking. There is very little wiggle room for analysis so far in the novel. Overall, I think that Divergent is more of a “beach” book than anything else.

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