Monthly Archives: September 2015

I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak 9/10

This book focuses on protagonist Ed Kennedy, a young guy who is a rather low-achiever. He and his friends don’t do much mostly just hang around playing cards. However, this changes for Ed when he gets a playing card with three addresses written on it in the mail. He is drawn to the three homes, and soon enough realizes what needs to be done there. Soon after he has visited the third house, he gets another card in the mail, this time a different suit. He deduces that each thing written on the card is connected to a person (or people) who need his help. Every mission is unique in its own way and encourages Ed to become bigger than he was before. Things get especially climatic when the names on the cards are those of his best friends. Will Ed be able to save them too? (I feel so dramatic.)
As you have probably realized, this is the same author who wrote The Book Thief. The style in this story is also very unique. When I imagined the setting in my head it was always with like a sepia colored filter over it. Markus Zusak also has a strange way of making nouns that aren’t tangible seem like they can be touched and messed around with, which is very a interesting thing to notice when reading I Am The Messenger.
This book is definitely about character growth and development because Ed at the beginning of the book is very different than Ed at the end of the book. He becomes a better person, and in that way, the book is rather inspiring. However, some of Ed’s missions are very morbid and creepy. Violence also occurs at times. I feel like people who are drawn to realistic fiction but are not too easily scared and people who liked The Book Thief would enjoy this book.

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (10/10)

In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck weaves together hope, pain, and family into this classic novel set in the Great Depression. The Joad family struggles their way across the United States from Oklahoma to California in search of picking fruit or a similar well-paying job. They, along with thousands of other families, were tractored off of their land and home, and were forced to leave, and were given orange handbills telling about the supposed need for work in the West. Throughout the journey, all of the desperate travelers are quick to help one another, and realize that their interdependence is the only way that they will make it all the way to California. Many family members were lost along the way, through devastating experiences as the trip was tough and few had positive experiences for quite a while. Eventually, Tom Joad and his entire family that was left made it to California, yet still struggled there to find steady work and support to feed themselves. Hope was hard to come by in these times, and only because it was often found pointless when there was no way they had anything to find positive.

Steinbeck chose to add an entirely narrated chapter every other chapter, which was one particularly interstjng attribute about this book. Each was about an event or setting during this time period and was full of brilliant details. They were metaphorically referring to an experience of the Joad family’s  that would soon happen, and made one feel as if they lived in these tough times and actually experienced these events.

In each of these sections, the author usually used it as a way to foreshadow what was coming next for the Joads, whether it would be joyful or devastating. Though he did this, you never knew quite which way the book would turn next, until it happened, which then would explain the previous chapter. I found this interesting how Steinbeck intertwined this fictional story so well with the actual of events of this time period using this technique.

The Grapes of Wrath was an amazing read, in terms of detail and complexity to every last emotion of each character. It would be especially interesting to teenagers and adults interested in an intelligent, well-written novel. Although it takes a couple chapters to get started and moving, I would encourage people to try it and stick with reading it, because I found it more than worth it at the end. It was a gripping story in which I became connected to each character and was able to learn a lot about the Great Depression.

 

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne 8/10

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas written by John Boyne is one of the books I chose to read this summer. The main character is a boy named Bruno growing up during World War II whose father is a commandant for the Nazi’s. His family moves early on in the novel due to Bruno’s father’s job.  Bored in his new house Bruno decides to partake in one of his favorite pastimes, exploring. His house is adjacent to a giant, long, fence separating him and his family from acres of dirt fields and small huts with a bunch of people wearing striped pajamas. Curious with the other side Bruno walked alongside it for a while and met a boy named Shmuel sitting next to the fence on the other side who he became very good friends with. After a while Bruno’s father decided that it was time for the rest of his family to return to their normal life in Berlin. Bruno and Shmuel decided to have one final adventure. On their last meeting Shmuel lifted up the fence, gave Bruno a pair of striped pajamas and led him toward the huts. Suddenly the soldiers rounded them up and sent them on a march that led them to a big gym after which they were never heard of again. Bruno’s fathers optimism towards the Nazi Party was destroyed as he eventually pieced Bruno’s story together. 

My favorite thing about this book is that the author is extremely descriptive, and through Boyne’s writing one sees the world as Bruno would. One can piece together the realities of Bruno’s life that he has not yet discovered through the descriptive imagery and flashbacks. This book is suited for readers of all ages and is a classic that everybody should eventually read.

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Now in November by Josephine Johnson 8/10

Now in November follows the lives of an urban white family turned penniless, forced to work as farmers during the Great Depression. Johnson writes through the eyes of the middle sister Marget, of how the family goes through many struggles that come with living on a mortgaged farm. From beginning to end, Marget experiences firsthand the trials her family faces first from the spring of their move to a harsh winter, a decade later. When winter first begins, there is not much change in daily labor. A dreadful drought then harshens conditions, and a fire leads to the tragedy of the loss of two family members. Yet even though this agony is placed upon Marget and her remaining family, they must continue to work on the farm.

This novel included many strong characters, with each family member possessing a distinct and unique personality. Mainly focused on the three sisters Merle, Marget, and Kerrin, each sister is wildly different from the other. With these three as the center of the novel, their actions moved the plot along. To create both mental and physical descriptions, Johnson smoothly incorporates sections of imagery. Besides representation of the land, there are also other pieces that can be felt as an emotion or for example, the movement of time. Time does not travel in a chronologic sequence in this novel, and instead Johnson writes the story from two different time periods in Marget’s life. The novel takes place through the span of a year, yet at the same time ten years. This is slightly different, but by perceiving multiple aspects it allows for interesting development.

I would suggest that teenagers and older would be best suited for this book. This novel portrays the realistic effects of the Great Depression, and anyone who has interests about this historical time would definitely find this to be an engaging book. It is a touching and moving story about the struggle of that time, which is wonderfully portrayed and written by Johnson.

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The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow 7/10

Robert Sharenow’s Berlin Boxing Club details the life of a young boy, Karl Stern, as he grows up a non practicing Jew in Nazi occupied Berlin. The book is told through the eyes of this boy as he becomes a man and learns to defend his family. After suffering relentless harassment for being an “evil, mongrel Jew,” Karl begins to take boxing lessons from the country’s boxing champ, Max Schmeling. These lessons give him confidence and determination that takes him throughout the book, during this coming of age novel, driven by themes of injustice, self empowerment, a strong sense of self, and the importance of family.

Though this may seem like yet another World War Two novel, what makes this book particularly interesting is the lens through which the story is told. There are many stories of the torture that Jews endured in this time period, but what about the Jews who do not identify with Judaism? The Stern family is only Jewish by blood, and have never even stepped foot in a synagogue (not to mention that Karl even agrees with Hitler about the assumed evilness of Jews in the beginning of the novel), yet their lives are destroyed because of the propaganda that is put out into their community about the Jewish culture. This book honestly shows what it was like for someone in Karl’s position to grow up in a disadvantaged environment controlled by societal standards.

Though this book has some topics that can be looked into and analyzed maturely, the way this book is written is almost childish, in that on the surface it is very simplistic. Though this seems like it could be Sharenow’s attempt to write to a younger audience, it may also be his intention to write as a young teenager would write as if in a journal. Whatever his intentions may be, this book seems to be below the level of a high school Honors English class. Unless heavily analyzed, it is hard to pull any concrete depth out of the story that is being told, because the deepest elements of the story are presented to the reader from the surface of the book.

This is a wonderful book for those who have yet to read much about World War Two and the Holocaust, or those who have little experience with the struggle of Jews or other “mongrel races” in Germany at that time. For those who have read more about this subject and setting, I would say that this book is not advanced enough and does not present a great need for insight or analysis. It is a nice “intro to the holocaust” type of a book. Because of the lack of maturity and depth, I gave the book 7/10.

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Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson 8/10

Kidnapped is a relatively short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson that was first published in 1886. Stevenson is best known for his novel Treasure Island which was a (very famous) coming of age story that often touched on the ambiguity of what is moral. Kidnapped, is also a coming of age story. The book takes place in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 (although the book doesn’t actually tell you this, I had to look it up) where the Scottish highlanders, who are portrayed sympathetically, are being repressed by the through laws that did things like prevent them from wearing traditional highland clothing and carrying anything that could be considered a weapon. Although, neither the lowlanders or highlanders are depicted in a negative way but are rather both portrayed as two sensible sides that simply disagree.

In Kidnapped, the main character, David Balfour, lives in the Scottish lowlands and, after his parents die, is sent to live with his scheming uncle who ends up making arrangements with slave traders to have David kidnapped (hence the title) and sold as a slave in the Americas. After his escape from the slaver, he ends up stranded in the Scottish highlands and accidentally becomes a fugitive after he was unjustly accused of being an accomplice in the “Appin Murder” which was a real historical event in 1752 that occurred after the Jacobite uprising.

Throughout the book, the reader can clearly see a theme of maturation through David’s transformation from being an over-confident, arrogant, and someone who “judges people by their cover” to becoming a person who appreciates every little pleasure and who only judges people based on their actions. The reader can especially see this in how he first treats his unkempt uncle versus how he later treats equally unkempt highlanders whom he encounters through his flight away from the Scottish authorities. The former he instantly treats with significant disdain while the latter he would only voice any judgments after he leaves their company or at least spending a significant amount of time with them.

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Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens – 9/10

In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of Pip’s journey through life, and the effects that society, Pip’s weaknesses, and his blind expectations have on the development of his character. At the start of his journey, Pip is an earnest young boy, content with his simple life living with Joe and Biddy, and expectations of a future as a blacksmith. As Pip’s journey continues, he meets Miss Havisham, a wealthy and bitter recluse, and Estella, her beautiful daughter. Pip reveres Miss Havisham because of her wealth and idolizes Estella. As a result of their influence, Pip becomes dissatisfied with his life and is consumed with the desire to become a gentleman, which he expects will bring him the happiness and contentment he longs for. When Pip’s desire to become a gentleman is met, through the generosity of an unnamed benefactor, Pip separates himself from those people he deems common and coarse, and becomes immersed in the meaningless and superficial life of high society. But contrary to his expectations, Pip remains dissatisfied with his life and ignored by Estella. Blinded by his expectations and weaknesses, he continues this way of life, surrounded by a society that poisons his character. During this time in the novel, Pip is proud, critical, and pretentious. When his true patron is revealed, Pip’s carefully constructed expectations are shattered and his fortune taken away. These events cause him to finally mature and as a result, he is able to see how his character has deteriorated. No longer enchanted by the members of society that he used to revere, or blinded by his weaknesses and expectations, Pip recognizes the value of Joe and Biddy’s unconditional love, and seeks their forgiveness. At the conclusion of the story, Pip lives a simple life as a humble and loving man; greatly changed, but not broken by the mistakes he made in his youth, and free of the discontentment that comes with “Great Expectations”.

In Great Expectations, Dickens forms an incredible array of memorable characters, from the comical Mr. Wopsle and “The Aged” to the cruel Miss Havisham and the villainous con-man Compeyson. Each carefully created and detailed character in the book represents qualities found in humanity. Because the reader can see their own faults in the characters of Great Expectations, Dickens’ characters connect to the reader, provoking emotion and thought.

Dickens uses situational irony to vividly illustrate fallacies in the structure of society during the Victorian Era. Pip’s benefactor, who Pip believed to be Miss Havisham, was actually the convict he saved when he was a boy. The money that allowed Pip to become a gentleman, a member of high society, came from the dregs of society. Even the convict’s qualities, when compared to Miss Havisham’s are ironic. Magwitch, the convict, is moral and has a strong sense of honor and gratitude, as demonstrated by his generosity towards Pip. In contrast, Miss Havisham is bitter, cold, and self-centered. She destroys the lives of those around her. Yet according to Victorian society she is a lady of class and refinement, and Magwitch dangerous scum.

Great Expectations is an extraordinary book whose characters and themes have the capacity to capture the interest of a wide variety of readers. The themes of maturation, expectations, loyalty, and self-improvement are relevant to all ages. Teenagers and adults alike will find value and enjoyment in reading Great Expectations. Dickens is a phenomenal author who explores deep and impactful topics in incredible detail. Every one, at some point in their life, should read Great Expectations, so they too can experience the wonderful plot and characters that Dickens so masterfully created. But be warned, Dickens’ books are challenging, and may cause you to doubt your grasp of the English language and send you running to the dictionary. Another fact to take into account: the plot of Great Expectations, while compelling, is not quick paced, and it is easy to lose your steam about half-way through the book. But I really do suggest you give it a try, at least so you can say you have read Dickens.

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