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The Kite Runner 1/3

Khaled Hosseni’s “The Kite Runner” is, to simply put, heartbreaking. The first section is primarily a narrative detailing the main character Amir’s childhood in pre-war Afghanistan. The first section is shocking and at times overwhelming, too realistic and gritty to be beautiful, but full of childish innocence, and Afghan culture that perfectly complements the story.

At first, Amir is nothing more than a spoiled child in a large house. He consciously belittles in thought and words Hassan, the son of Ali, his father’s friend and servant, and a Hazara Muslim, a member of an oppressed ethnic minority. Though raised by the same nurse as a child, Amir ignores the supposed brotherhood they share and cannot see Hassan even as a friend due to ingrained societal prejudice regarding class expectations. Amir harbors many guilty feelings regarding Hassan, from simple trickery to a horrific incident that Amir was too cowardly to stop, a disturbing and heart-wrenching scene that I cannot describe. Though looking down on Hassan, Amir is almost resentful of the affection that his father displays towards Hassan, requesting to take him on outings, buying him gifts, and almost embracing him as another son. Amir also seems jealous of Ali’s love and protection for Hassan, deeply contrasting with his relationship with his own father.

Amir’s father (or Baba) is a passionate and hardworking business man, who rarely displays affection towards his son. Throughout the novel, Amir’s main long-term goal seems to be pleasing his father. Amir somewhat disappoints his father by defying what a male in his society should be, not athletic, but rather transfixed with literature and with writing aspirations, finally pleasing his father when he wins a contest only to cause a rift in the dynamic. Their relationship starkly contrasts many father and child relationships evoked in traditional literature, Liesel and Hans, Harry and Hagrid/Dumbledore, or even Atticus and Scout. I was slightly surprised by Baba’s opposition to the Islamic religion, and his moral character, as I observed his almost blind sense of justice.

I both pity and almost despise Amir as a character, a prejudiced and bratty child who is yet so alone, without a mother or any sort of female tenderness in his life. His sole interest is discouraged by father, and he is left to feel worthless, solitary, and incredibly frustrated. Hassan is almost too easy to read, too kind, too loving, too trusting to the point where I began to feel a pity for the boy. On the other hand, I felt a sort of disgust at Amir’s reactions to certain situations, until I reminded myself of his youth. While Hassan is an open novel, Amir is so closed off, consumed by the guilt he carries on his scrawny shoulders.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kelsey 1/3

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kelsey is a fascinating story told from the perspective of a patient in a mental hospital, Chief Bromden. Chief Bromden is originally from a Colombian Native American tribe, and his father was the Chief, hence his title in the Ward. Bromden often has flashbacks to his childhood that revolve around his family and their home. Furthermore, Chief Bromden pretends to be deaf in order to escape some of the horrors of the Ward caused by the “Big Nurse” and her aids. I thought that writing from the perspective of Bromden was an ingenious move on the author’s part. While at times hard to understand, by writing from his perspective, the reader is given a deeper look into the running of the Ward and the atrocities performed on the patients through Bromden’s eyes. There are some parts in this book that are hard to distinguish between what is reality and a figment of Bromden’s imagination. Bromden seems to have lucid hallucinations where he sees terrible things about the people in the Ward. I believe that these hallucinations are manifestations of the way Bromden sees people in the Ward. These hallucinations also provide symbolism and metaphors in the book. Many of Bromden’s hallucinations revolve around the “Big Nurse,” Miss Ratched. Bromden describes her as a painted doll, unmovable, stern and strict. In some of his hallucinations, Bromden sees her transform into a terrible monster with iron balls for hands. The monster that Bromden reveals Miss Ratched to be is a wonderful example of symbolism in the book. In truth, Miss Ratched is a tyrannical woman who keeps the people in the Ward under control through humiliation and awful so-called therapy she puts them through. The therapy varies from between drugs to shock-therapy and no doubt other forms as well. Bromden also describes a fog that the Big Nurse seems to put over the ward. I am not quite sure if the fog is a figment of Bromden’s imagination or a metaphor for the stifling blanket that Miss Ratched puts over the patients to keep them obedient.
Life in the Ward is a routine set and forcefully maintained by Miss Ratched. The patients are kept a tight schedule to maximize the efficiency of the Ward and to keep the patients “adjusted to [their] surroundings” (Kelsey 26). Everybody in the Ward has a place and no one dares to challenge the diabolical regime of Miss Ratched.
One day, there is a new admission to the mental hospital, Patrick McMurphy, and he refuses to conform to the rules of the Ward. He outright rebels against Miss Ratched, which only serves as to aggravate her. Patrick McMurphy is what the Big Nurse calls a “manipulator” (Kelsey 25). He disrupts the function of the Ward and causes problems for the staff. However, McMurphy would prefer to be called “a gambling fool” (Kelsey 12). He is fond of laughing, a sound that the patients find foreign. McMurphy is regarded by the patients as crazy because all he is doing is drawing the wrath of Miss Ratched. In order to prove to the Ward that rebellion is possible, he makes a bet with the patients that he can get Miss Ratched to lose her control within a week. As a result, McMurphy tries his best to shake up the function of the ward by singing, protesting and attempting to cause changes in the routine of the award by having a carnival.
Of all of the characters, I think that the most realistic character so far in this book is McMurphy because he acts the most like people outside the Ward and seems to be a much more solid character than the translucent patients. His character is developed to fit the stereotype of a cowboy; he rides into the Ward with the intent to save everyone in it from Miss Ratched. He is even described by Bromden to look like a cowboy.
There was a theme that was quite predominant even a third of the way through the novel. It was that people should rise above and rebel against the mainstream of society and its rules. I am looking forward to finishing this engaging story of life in a mental hospital under the tyrannical rule of the Big Nurse.

 

 

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: 1/3

When I started the Nightingale, I expected it to be a “heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women,” as it says in the description.  While it is true that the novel focuses on the “resilience” and “durability” of Vianne and Isabelle, the two main characters, I have found the book so far to be lacking the “heartbreakingly beautiful” aspect that the cover flap promises.

Although I was always at least mildly engrossed while reading the first third of the book, I often found myself tiring of the unnecessary amount of descriptions.  The author, Kristen Hannah, packs many of her descriptions chock-full of adjectives–so many adjectives, sometimes, that the sentences feel long and a bit bland.  One example of this is when Vianne describes the Rossignol living room:

“[It had] golden stucco walls, the color of freshly baked brioche, gray stone floors covered by ancient Aubusson rugs, heavily carved wooden furniture upholstered in mohair and tapestry fabric, lamps made of porcelain, curtains of gold and red toile, antiques and treasures left over from the years when the Rossignols had been wealthy tradesmen.” (pg. 158 iBook version)

Though very descriptive when it comes to physicality, I found that this description and the abundance of others like it did not evoke emotions as well as other novels I have read.  For example, in The Book Thief, Markus Zusak describes the Hubermann home as “one of the small, boxlike houses on Himmel Street.  A few rooms, a kitchen, and a shared outhouse with neighbors.  The roof was flat and there was a shallow basement for storage.  It was supposedly not a basement of adequate depth.” (pg. 32)  Not only is Zusak’s writing more concise, but in these three sentences he also gives the reader a sense of the rest of Leisel’s neighborhood and the war-time struggles of World War II.

Like the sentences, the plot of The Nightingale is sometimes drawn out and unclear.  Often it seems as though Vianne’s and Isabelle’s lives are being described minutely, while the book’s overall picture is hard to glimpse.  Some parts of the story move at an unrealistic pace, as well.  For example, less than a week after meeting Gaëtan, Isabelle tells him that she loves  him–and though some people may believe in love at first sight, I felt that Isabelle did not know nearly enough about the man to have fallen for him in a matter of days.

Although I am not a huge fan of Hannah’s writing style, I do find her characters likable.  Isabelle is brash and rebellious, and though some might argue that she is a somewhat flat character, it is hard not to love her feminist personality.  Vianne balances her sister nicely with a more reserved and rule-abiding personality. The chapters flap between their viewpoints often enough that I did not grow tired of either sister.

Overall, I found the first third of The Nightingale to be interesting but not particularly exciting.  In my opinion, it pales in comparison to other books like The Book Thief.  I look forward, however, to reading the rest of the novel and hope that the pace begins to pick up.

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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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The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: First 1/3

Right when the reader opens the book, they are introduced to the main conflict. The few pages of prologue provide intensity and suspension to the rest of the story to come. When Brown jumps right into the night when it all happened, without giving any backstory it provides a form of anxiety that giving a backstory wouldn’t provide. As I read further, the repetitive story of Saunière’s death keeps the reader thinking and figuring out for themselves how it all happened.

Langdon, one of the main characters feels like someone that would actually exist. Brown does a fascinating job humanizing all the characters, not just through the main storyline but also giving the reader inside clips of Langdon’s real life.  None of the characters are too “superhuman” while none of the characters are vague and boring. Brown makes sure each character has enough background so that the reader can understand their individual personalities, ideals, and how they work without over-explaining.

Brown’s choice of writing this story in 3rd person and switching between perspectives makes the book a kind of “double story”. On one hand, Langdon and Neveu are solving the mystery of Saunière’s death, while Silas is going on an adventure to find a hidden keystone. This element adds two reasons why the reader should keep reading, and I believe this was an exceptional feature Brown added to his novel.

After reading the first third of this novel, I can already know the rest of the story is going to be great. Although I’m sure that the novels selected to be read throughout the year has some purpose other than the great story, I feel that The Da Vinci Code is a great novel to read not just because of the extraordinary storyline and plot, but also because of the aspects of other real life things Brown incorporates; some include the history behind codes and signs, secret backstories on works of art and their creators, and many more.

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Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck 1/3

Grapes of Wrath is about a poor family (the Joads) living in Oklahoma who get kicked off their land and are forced to migrate south. John Steinbeck often switches from multiple viewpoints creating an introspective but sometimes confusing story. I believe the author switches to give the reader a better understanding but I noticed whenever he switched perspectives there was a strong lesson to be learned. One example of this was when he switched to the perspective of the car dealer, this really showed me how consumed people could become with money and making a profit that they couldn’t stop to see what they were doing, who they were hurting or have compassion for anyone including themselves. In contrast the Joads themselves and the people thrown out of their land behave with kindness and respect to everybody they come across in the same situation. This first became apparent when Tom Joad meets another Oklahoman farmer named Muley who is living off the land, although Muley had almost nothing to give he shares what little food he has with Joad. As I continued to read the book I look forward to uncovering more lessons that the author has to show. Through multiple perspectives and developing themes the Grapes of Wrath shows many things that can be learned from tragedy and the power of unity within a community.

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Taken by Erin Bowman 6/10

Taken is a book very similar in writing style to Hunger games and the Maze Runner, although it might have been a step up from those in actual grammar and themes it could at times be so predictable that I was bored.

The main character is a 17 year old boy named Gray who lives in a walled town named Claysoot. Of coarse Gray has no idea why the wall is there and until a dramatic series of events in his life occur he has no interest in finding out why it is there.  Claysoot is not an ordinary town at the age of 18 all of the men mysteriously disappear. Gray is ready to accept his fate, just like his brother and his father before him until he finds half of a note from his late mother. Gray then teams up with a childhood friend Emma to unveil the mysteries surrounding Claysoot, and together like the couple they soon become they climb over the wall to a land of semi-predictable reunions and incredibly predictable evil geniuses.

Sense I don’t want to spoil this book I will leave you with a few recommendations. Don’t read this book if you have read the Honors English booklist and like books with more of that theme, this is close to as far as away as it get from that. You should read this book however if you liked books such as “Legend” by Marie Lu.  Taken is for a very distinct group of readers, and I can see how some people would enjoy it more than me but personally I believe there are much better books on this list to read.

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