Author Archives: sofiatosoni

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (1/3)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas follows the life of a black girl named Starr Carter, after her childhood friend Khalil gets killed by a police officer. Following Khalil’s death, the reader is able to observe Starr’s struggles with violence within her community and racism, as well as how she deals with the major differences between friends from her school and her neighborhood.

The most prevalent theme throughout the first third of The Hate U Give has been racial injustice. Through the opening scenes, the reader witnesses Khalil and Starr getting pulled over by a cop for no specific reason. During this scene, Angie Thomas stresses how prevalent racism is in their community when she discusses a talk Starr previously had with her parents: “The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me. Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn’t too young to get arrested or shot. ‘Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do,’ he said. ‘Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves” (20). Although she was still a young child, Starr’s parents were forced to take cautionary actions against the police brutality that was ever so common in their community. This quote alone allows the reader a perspective of how much racism can have an effect on black communities like Starr’s.

Racism also follows Starr through her life while at her school in Williamsburg, a predominately white neighborhood. I thought that the inclusion of Starr’s use of code switching while at Williamsburg was yet another way to call attention to how prevalent racism still is in many areas. Starr refrains from using slang or having a confrontational attitude to keep herself from being seen as “ghetto” by the other students. I think this is tied together with other books and articles we have discussed as a class, such as the Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” presented by Chimamanda Adichie. I found that both The Hate U Give and “The Danger of a Single Story” discuss how dangerous labels can be.

In my opinion, I believe this book would be a good book to add to the English curriculum to due to how relevant the themes discussed are to the time we live in today. Similarly to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Starr’s voice in The Hate U Give is strong. I think it would be a more than adequate replacement for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, due to it’s ability to give students an example of a strong personal voice. Lastly, with the increase in police shootings that have sparked movements such as Black Lives Matter, The Hate U Give could provide a new  perspective for many.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

1/2

I have always been intrigued by John Green’s writing style. In the past, I have read both Paper TownsThe Fault in Our Stars, and now Turtles All the Way Down, and I have noticed that there are a few recurring themes throughout each book. First of all, Green never fails to make his characters seem realistic. Instead of painting an unfeasible story about a couple teenagers who are living a dream life, Green highlights the fact that each person is fighting through their own internal struggles. And, the problems these characters face are similar to those of an actual person you could meet walking down the street. For example, the narrator, Aza, struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. Her obsessive tendencies reflect this: “You’re fine he’s not even the first boy you’ve kissed eighty million organisms in me forever calm down permanently altering the microbiome this is not rational you need to do something” (153)This quote in particular emphasizes the fact that, even though she wants to, Aza cannot control her thoughts and is instead stuck in a cycle of battling her own mind. The signs of Aza’s mental illness are ever-present throughout the book, even when she fights against them, which I believe adds to the authenticity of her problem.

I also enjoy how Green often focuses on the power of relationships. I have found this book to be similar to The Fault in Our Stars, in that Aza and Davis need each other just as Hazel and Augustus did. Both of their characters had been undergoing challenging times in their lives when they met, and I am interested to see whether they are able to help each other cope through these difficult times in the second half of the book.

There is also the ever-present sense of mystery that Green often includes, that deals with the disappearance of David’s father, and whether or not Aza will try to find him. I was hooked by the mystique that surrounds his disappearance, but at the same time it is not overwhelming, which gives a chance for the reader to focus on different aspects of the book such as David and Aza’s relationship.

Lastly, John Green’s novels almost always incorporate a deeper meaning. I am curious to figure out if Turtles All the Way Down follows a similar path. Overall, I am excited to continue reading an unveil the answers to my questions.

 

 

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

While browsing the young adult section at Powell’s bookstore in search of an independent reading book, I was immediately attracted to Station Eleven. From quickly skimming the description on the back cover, I derived that the book was focused on a group called the Travelling Symphony, who travel to different camps performing Shakespeare after a deadly disease swept Northern America. I ultimately chose Station Eleven because I thought it would tie together my love for the sci-fi and fantasy genres while also encompassing an aspect of literature. Upon reading the first half, I was surprised.  This novel does indeed follow a girl named Kirsten who is a part of the Traveling Symphony. But, the focus frequently switches to the past; where we learn about a man named Arthur who was an actor before the disease. The author divulges into the background of Arthur, including before he became a successful as well as his many complicated relationships. I have found that this makes the novel extremely confusing; it seems almost as if there are two completely different plot lines. I do hope that the second half of this book reveals more about how Arthur and Kirsten’s lives are connected.

Just within the first pages of the novel, the author was able to set a tone for the rest of the book. After a man named Jeevan experienced Arthur’s unexpected death while performing a play, he decided to have a drink at a nearby bar. At the very end of the chapter, Mandel wrote, “Of all of them at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city” (15). By foreshadowing their impending deaths, I found that the author set an eerie tone that has been carried throughout the novel. I was also immediately interested by the sense of mystery that was conveyed. The last line left an opportunity for questions to be asked, such as how life would change after such a devastating disease.

As I mentioned before, the author was able to grab my attention with the mysterious nature of the first few chapters. But I have also noticed that feeling of obscurity has almost been used excessively, and it has been hard to keep track of the many different questions that are presented. The first quarter of the book follows Arthur and his relationship with a girl named Miranda and although much time is spent exploring the comic books Miranda makes, it is unclear what the purpose of including this detail is. At the same time, Arthur was writing to a person labelled “V” in the form of letters that eventually get published as a book. Again, it is not revealed who “V” is or why they are significant. Lastly, many of the Symphony’s members, including Kirsten and her closest friend August, begin to disappear, after visiting a cult-like village on their traveling route. As a reader, it almost seems as if the author is trying to delve too much into the details and in turn loses focus of the main picture. The result is a novel that has become increasingly harder to follow as well as to stay interested in. I am curious to see whether or not each of these details will tie together in the second half of the book.

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman 1/2

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman follows the life of Ove, who has often been labeled as the typical grumpy old man by almost everyone he meets. This book gives an insight into Ove’s thoughts as he encounters everyday obstacles as well as life changing events.

In the book, Ove is portrayed as a cantankerous old man. The majority of people have come across a man like Ove at some point in their lives, and at the time it was most likely difficult to understand how someone could become so grouchy or irritable. To explain Ove’s somewhat mean nature, the author often alternates between scenes of Ove’s current day life and his younger years. By doing this, the reader learns about Ove’s past, including his father, who’s no-nonsense attitude has greatly influenced Ove’s outlook on life. The cause of his hardworking and blunt personality is also revealed when the reader learns that Ove had lived on his own since late childhood when his dad died, causing him to mature much faster than those around him. By going over scenes from Ove’s past, the author provides much more depth to his character.

Throughout the first half of the book, a main focus is the large impact that the death of Ove’s wife has had on him. “But if anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either” (136). In his early years, Ove lived a simple life that was devoid of excitement or joy. This all changed when he first met Sonja. Sonja provided him with a sense of worth and happiness, so when she died, Ove felt as if he had no purpose left in the world. Because of this, six months after Sonja’s death, Ove made the decision to kill himself. In the first half of the book, his thoughts of suicide are often discussed in a casual manner, even though it is a serious subject. This may be to portray Ove’s feelings about the topic, as he believes it to be a logical decision rather than one made out of the sadness he feels from losing Sonja.

Ove has made the decision to end his life because he feels that he has nothing left to live for, but the arrival of new neighbors next-door might change that. On two occasions, Ove has attempted to take his life but has been interrupted by the new neighbors, Parvaneh and Patrick. This may be foreshadowing the new relationships that will form later on in the book. Parvaneh and Patrick often ask for help from Ove which he usually responds to with insulting comment, clearly annoyed by the many disturbances they have caused. Although Ove currently thinks of his new neighbors as bothersome, they may later serve as the people that add purpose back to Ove’s life while stopping him from feeling that he needs to commit suicide.

Even though I have found the first half to be somewhat slow-paced, I have been enjoying A Man Called Ove.  I am also interested to learn how Ove continues to deal with the death of his wife and how his relationship with Parvaneh and Patrick will develop in the second half of the book.

 

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 1/3

At the start of “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, there is a perception of failure and loss, as if there is something missing in Rachel’s life. The way that the author has not given much background or reason to her actions and thoughts has created a mysterious feeling that really resonates with the reader. Instead of finding out about all of Rachel’s issues at once, they are gradually revealed through her thoughts and actions.

While reading, it becomes apparent that Rachel has had a disconnection with her life due to her separation with Tom. While riding the train to work, Rachel often focuses on the two people she has never met, that live in a house along the path of the train that she commutes on. After the train barrels past their house, Rachel thinks, “…I can sometimes catch a glimpse of them out on their terrace. if not—like today—I can imagine them… Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the last time I had meaningful physical contact with another person, just a hug or a heartfelt squeeze of my hand…” (5). By fantasizing about Jess and Jason’s life and relationship, it is clear that Rachel often creates a parallel world about what could have happened if she and Tom did not divorce and instead became the perfect couple that she believes is portrayed by Jess and Jason.

Further into the book, the author introduces Megan and Scott, the “perfect” couple Rachel often sees on her commute. Megan struggles with her need for adventure and action, something her relationship with Scott doesn’t embody. She shows her carefree side through her thoughts. “I want to run, I want to take a road trip, in a convertible, with the top down. I want to drive to the coast—any coast” (21). The guilt Megan feels for wanting to be free from Scott, who gives her everything, causes her to hide her distraught that is still prominent in her thoughts. This conflict is most likely why Megan chooses to disappear. “I can’t do this, I can’t just be a wife… Wait for a man to love you. Either that or look around for something to distract you” (23). Megan’s situation shows how much of a fantasy Rachel’s idea of Jess and Jason really is and how the thing that Rachel longs for so much, doesn’t even exist within the couple she claims to be perfect.

Reading about Rachel’s and Megan’s perspectives have shown how contrasting their lives really are. Rachel is longing for something she lost and dying for reassurance that she is accomplishing something in life her from a partner. Megan has everything that Rachel wants, yet she is still craving freedom and adventure in her life while being tied down by her relationship with Scott. It will be interesting to see how their worlds will interact while Rachel is trying to figure out why Megan went missing and where she could have disappeared to.

 

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: 8/10

Over the summer I read the book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is set around 1910 in a poverty stricken part of Brooklyn, New York. It follows a young girl named Francie through the conflicts of her life. At the start of the book, Francie is a small child who doesn’t seem to be that troubled by her situation. As she gets older, she begins to learn about the struggles her family is going through and how she will have to battle through life on her own. Throughout the book Francie experiences many problems including dealing with her father’s alcohol problems and having to choose between money or education. The setting of this book is also a big factor in her hardships and reading about this time period gives an insight as to what Francie had to deal with as a young women in early times.

I have to admit, when I first read the foreword of the book, I wasn’t expecting to find the story at all interesting due to it being said to have few smilies and metaphors, and lacking of a prominent plot line. Instead, this book really relies on telling the stories of Francie’s life. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” makes you feel like you were right alongside Francie through every step of her journey. I found that it is really different compared to other “coming of age” stories because it doesn’t change or sugarcoat any of her struggles. Even though I would never describe this book as thrilling, a page turner, or action packed I would still definitely recommend it. It makes up for its lack of suspense or action by being a beautifully written book about growing up; one that I would definitely read again.

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