Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Unlike most readers that seemed to love this book, I could not get into it. The character development and lack of internal monologues, made me feel like I was reading historical facts rather than sweeping me into a good story. Even though the facts were interesting and had the author's own twist - enough to keep me going - I know I'll forget this one in the long haul. Every time I thought the character's arc was becoming interesting, there'd be a jarring narrative by a minor character or when I started to actually get into the story, the plot veered in a direction that was predictable because of a forced showdown with the villain. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Give this a go if you like speculative fiction and history, just don't expect much character development.

Cora is abandoned by her mother on a Georgia cotton plantation where she has to survive on her own. When the owner dies and the twin son takes over the plantation, he tortures, beats, and uses the slaves for his own degenerate entertainment and lusts.  Violence and fear reign, instilling terror in the slaves to deter escapes and keep them oppressed. But Cora can't be subdued. Her early survival training course from when her mom took off has created a strong woman. When another slave approaches Cora about escaping, she puts him off until she feels her life is threatened. The two seek out the underground railroad and the reader discovers it is a real railroad that is literally dug underground. I wondered if the novel was going to be a steampunk fantasy at that point, but the author doesn't head in that direction, instead the railroad is a symbol of blacks fighting for freedoms and their vital contributions to building this country into what it is today.

The next alternate historical account is regarding doctors who are practicing eugenics on unsuspecting black women sterilizing them. When some find out what has happened, they go insane. Irony abounds as Cora gets a job working for a living museum where the only live people or actors are the three black women. They live out history as it is falsely told in some of the scenes. Colson Whitehead is reminding readers with his speculations that an alternate history is relevant today. The reader has to make his or her own connections. As Cora says, the U.S. has "stolen bodies working stolen land." He pounds home the message that the U.S. is not one group of peoples' land. Manifest Destiny was a way for white people to conquer and oppress those in the way. It was not justified. The author points to the Trail of Tears and creates his own horrific Freedom Trail where the bodies of blacks are hung from trees mutilated and tortured mile-after-mile.

The strength of Whitehead's novel is how he shows different versions of the past and how literary or historical narration influences the authenticity of history. When Cora reflects on the Bible and the Hebrew slaves she comments how people got things wrong by "accident" and "on purpose." She's watching a minstrel show as she questions history. The white men dressed up as blacks are mocking her culture and ancestry, trying to change the facts. They lie to create a truth that justifies their inhumane actions. The narration is bent to fit the group that is dominant in the society. To acknowledge blacks are human beings that helped build the country is a narration that will not happen in Cora's lifetime. Later when the blacks form a community or safe-haven in which education, freedom, food, and politics flourish, Cora is forced to see that it is a delusion as it is destroyed by threatened white people in town.

The klunky transitions between chapters were jarring and the third person narration pulled me even more out of the storyline. The bounty hunter was interesting but when he isn't killed in one section of the book it was obvious that he'd show up again. Here the plot is forced and lost steam for me. While I see why many liked the uniqueness through the author's use of speculative fiction, the weak character development left me wanting more.

3 Smileys

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency by Annie Jacobsen

I listened to the audiobook while traveling 32 hours (door-to-door) from Africa to the U.S. The audio, narrated by the author, was over 18 hours and never failed to put me to sleep. Bulging with fascinating details, it lulled me to sleep with all its names and acronyms at times, but kept me awake other times. The beginning is an amazing account of the hydrogen bomb that mades me wonder about the after-effects in the islands decades later.

I recommend the book over an audiobook unless you have a good memory for details. I don't. I am going to get the book and skim it again. An ambitious look at a little-known, yet powerful agency, started in the 1950's to win wars. Annie Jacobsen does a good job dramatizing historical events and remaining objective letting the reader decide whether DARPA crosses the line or defends the country in its mission. I can see why this was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize nominee for history.

The arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States meant the belief in "mutually assured destruction" - nations attacking each other with nuclear weapons would destroy themselves in the process. The U.S. decided to develop DARPA in 1958 to stay ahead of the Soviets in new arms and technology, and prevent a nuclear strike. The department developed cutting-edge technological, biological, psychological and scientific warfare. They developed ARPANET, the pre-cursor to today's Intenet, and Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used in the Vietnam War. Sophisticated rifles, drones, and global positioning systems (GPS) make this read like a spy novel at times.

One reviewer, Richard Easton, claims that the information on GPS is incorrect. He's quite detailed in what he considers egregious errors. I would have to do more research in this area to see if I agree or not. I do not agree that the entire book is a wasted effort if that is true as he implies. The GPS is a small portion as the author is covering the entire DARPA history. However, if Jacobsen is wrong, I hope it is corrected in new printings. I hope her book leads to more work on the topic. She wrote it by interviewing 71 former DARPA scientists and reading newly declassified documents from 1958 to the present. It is quite fascinating and original.

5 Smileys

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Young readers will like the spy novel subplot. Many have this book on their Newbery contender lists and I thought the beginning unfolded in a weird and engaging way, but I had issues with the crafting of plot and development of characters. Noah Keller is picked up from school one day only to find his world turned upside down as his parents take him to the airport to live in East Germany for six months while his mom finishes her PhD in studying children with speech impediments. Noah has no warning. The sudden flight is suspicious and mysterious. Noah doesn't know what to think when he arrives behind the Wall in a world lacking freedom and full of fear. He makes friends with a neighbor girl that causes all sorts of problems with authorities.

The book lacked authenticity for me.  I've lived in three different countries and every time I move I struggle with some form of culture shock. While I think children can handle it fairly well compared to adults as they are immersed in school, Noah doesn't even struggle with it. Compare it to the book, "Inside Out and Back Again," where the character moves to the U.S. from Vietnam. In that plot the anger and struggles with communicating in a new country using a second language are much more authentic. Noah also learns the language in isolation too quickly. The author gives him a photographic memory to try and justify his gift with learning languages, but he would have needed to be immersed in the culture in some form to become that fluent and have that high of a vocabulary in only three months. But he isn't in a local school. He's at home waiting for approval from the government to go to school.

Noah has a stuttering problem; however, little depth of understanding to the problem. It is a token disability; not like the character in "Paperboy," by Vince Vawter who works on breathing techniques to try and communicate. Also, how could Noah be understood in German when no one could understood him in English except his parents? Noah becomes friends with an East German girl talking to her in his second language fluently.

I didn't think the author captured life in East Germany in a well-rounded way. As a reader, I felt like an outsider looking through a stereotyped Western window or view of behind the iron curtain. Again, it didn't feel well-rounded or authentic, but more from textbooks. Maybe that was because of the way the author chose to explain facts in popup "Secret Files" boxes. I think it is really hard as an outsider trying to understand another culture and capture the sounds, smells, and  uniqueness of what it is like living as an expat. While the suspense is well-done, this fell short for me.

3 Smileys

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

My extended essay students are writing papers on terrorism and I know little on the subject. This book gives excellent background knowledge on the rise of modern terrorism in the Middle East. When Saddam Hussein's reign ended in Iraq, it created unique opportunities for terrorists. Through various misfortunes and missteps by the Western governments, the beginning of modern terrorism took root in Iraq with the brilliant strategist and thug, leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who took advantage of opportunities that began in Jordan. This book dramatically unfolds the complexities of tribal cultures, interpretations of Islam, and differences among clans that gave rise to terrorism in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq, later ISIS, and its relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front. 

The engrossing narrative is depressing and fascinating as it reveals the desire for ISIS to establish an Islamic state led by a caliph. The first  caliphs, viewed as descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, ruled from Damascus and Bagdad. The Ottoman caliphate replaced them in Istanbul expanding the Islamic Empire. The Turkish conquerors allowed the Sharif of Mecca or a Hashemite Emir (descendant of the Prophet Mohammad) to control Holy sites in Mecca for hundreds of years. Jordan's King Hussein's great-grandfather, Emir, teamed with Britain and Western Allies to successfully drive out the collapsing Turkish empire in 1916, and create an independent Arab-Islamic nation called, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Enemies of the new state were the nomadic Ikhwan tribesmen who invaded Jordan in the 1920's and Palestinian militants that attacked in the 1960's. The latter militants were driven out into Syria and Libya. Eighteen times King Hussein's enemies tried to assassinate him. The Jordan intelligence community worked to contain militant threats and the government worked with moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood to maintain stability in the country and keep extremists at bay. 

When King Hussein died of natural causes, his son came to power in 1999 and allowed the tradition of granting amnesty to political and nonviolent criminals in prison. The practice ensured loyalty from those in Parliment such as moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. It was under these circumstances that Jordan released Zarqawi and other extremists taking advantage of Abdullah, the inexperienced new king. Zarqawi interpreted jihad in a whole new way and introduced Internet violence, brilliantly exploiting tribal differences between Sunnis, Shiites, and other tribes. While he had initial support, his brutality against innocent people eventually isolated him. 
The book reveals Jordan's secret service and how it worked differently than US intelligence being more effective because of its cultural understandings and connections. As an expat, I've made so many cultural mistakes by filtering the world through my culture's perspective. The US showed an arrogance due to not listening to those that new tribal cultures better than them. The few voices that tried to be heard and had wise advice were ignored by those in power. This book is a good reminder of qualities that make a wise leader and how difficult it is to make decisions in complex situations. Another part of the book shows how the US and Arab prisons that held extremists actually helped unite different terrorist groups in the quest for a caliphate by bringing them all together in one location. 

When  ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in Mosul, Iraq, it conquered the second largest city. ISIS raided Mosul's government treasuries giving the rebels millions of dollars to fund their operations of expanding to other territories. The rebels had superior technology with more machine guns and explosives as compared to Iraq's army allowing for a quick downfall of Mosul. Their leader, Baghdadi, is a religious scholar who declared himself caliph. The Muslim world questions this claim as his violence is even more extreme than Zarqawi's. The partnerships formed by Arab and Western governments to fight ISIS shows that most Muslim's do not recognize ISIS.  While I'm just a newbie on this topic, this is a great start to gaining some knowledge and understanding on the issue. 

5 Smileys

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

A dense, award-winning book that relentlessly satires cultural identity, politics, philosophy, pop culture, etc. Paul Beatty goes all-out in a rapid-fire funny and tragic riff; an improvised verbal flood of words on race - at times incomprehensible to this white reader, and other times fascinating. I say, white reader, because much of the slang and cultural references went "Whoosh," over my head. Not that this matters. There is plenty for everyone to eat. Can't say I loved it or hated it. I did admire it. It is a weird mix of comedy, tragedy, and existential absurdity that reflects the current breakdown of gender and racial roles in society and the waffling identity of people trying to figure out their meaning in the world whether black, Muslim, female, transgender, etc.  Behind the laughter is a slashing anger that addresses loss, failure, and flawed institutions on all levels. The serious side is masked by riffs and an absurd, subjective plot. This novel doesn't use familiar literary structures or conventions so if you looking for an alternative read, I recommend it.

The story begins with an African-American nicknamed, Bonbon, being charged by the U.S. Supreme Court for owning a slave and implementing segregation in the community. Bonbon's father was shot by the Los Angeles police and Bonbon received a settlement of two million dollars. He used the money to start a farm mainly growing watermelons and weed. Hominy, a depressed and retired actor who worked on films portrayed in racist scenes on the defunct TV series, The Little Rascals,  has lost his cultural identity and attempts suicide. Bonbon takes him on as his slave and Hominy no longer has an identity crisis. He knows his place in the world once again. 

Meanwhile, Bonbon's town of Dickens has disappeared; eaten whole by the LA suburbs and erased from the maps. Bonbon resurrects the town by instituting segregation. It reminds people of the past and how far (or not) they have come in the world from slavery. Bonbon asks repeatedly, "Who am I? And how can I be that person?" and "Who am I? And how can I become myself?" Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and sociologists  have been asking this question for a long time as it establishes a sense of identity. Karen Coates, in "Keywords for Children's Literature," explains how a modernist culture sees identification as a composite whole versus a postmodern culture that emphasizes not a continuous identity but one that continually changes. The characters represent this notion of identity in a vague and multilayered way with no direct answers. 

Beatty masks what side of the argument he stands for with humor. I found it difficult figuring out what his point was at times or if his point was to not have a point. In the last chapter, Bonbon is at a club listening to a black comedian who rips into a white couple sitting in the first row. Bonbon describes the white people as trying to understand the black comedy but obviously not getting it. When the comedian says, "'This shit ain't for you. Understand? Now get the fuck out! This is our thing!'" Bonbon responds by wishing he'd stood up to the man and asking, "'So what exactly is our thing?" At first, I thought maybe the author was making a point that he doesn't want assimilation between races, but this didn't follow the themes Beatty points to throughout the story. Instead, I think it ties in with the theme of identity and Bonbons constant "Who am I?" question. The scene shows how the white couple is not aware of their actions nor are they sensitive to the culture they've stepped into in the club. They choose the center row where they are most visible and they laugh at all the wrong jokes at the wrong times. Beatty cynically seems to be implying that things really don't change, a recurring theme that has a steady beat from beginning to end.

The slim plot piles ridiculous situations upon even more ridiculous situations reminding me of my University of Minnesota class on the Theater of the Absurd. Bonbon's existential look at an individual's place and meaning in the world are humorously approached in absurd scenes that make the reader laugh but belie the tragic seriousness of many explosive issues. I'm not sure if Beatty means to shock the audience into action or just become more self-aware of their identity regardless of race and color, but either way that is the effect it had on me. 

The characters are often dealing with losses and failures in life where they seem to have a moment of clarity only for it to disappear in a poof of inaction or incapability to articulate the battle. Bonbon takes offense at guest-speaker, Jon McJone's, nonsense about an African child in slavery being better off having two parents as opposed to today's one parent home. Bonbon thinks to himself that McJones doesn't talk about how people were forced to marry each other during slavery times, how divorce wasn't an option, and how kids were sold off at the whim of the masters. When he tells McJones he's full of crap, Colin Powell says "Like you wouldn't rather be born here than in Africa." Bonbon takes offense at this nativist view that unfairly makes light of the suffering the original slaves went through; however, King Cuz stands up and does the fighting for him. Bonbon, nicknamed "The Sellout", just walks away in the middle of the argument. Oftentimes when Bonbon speaks up it falls on deaf ears. He appears to fail and takes drastic measures to make a point. 

While Bonbon is compared to a cupcake, he is not soft and his actions usually go in the opposite direction of how another would approach these issues. He is questioning the identity of black people by reinstating the past. When Hominy asks to be his slave, Bonbon recognizes that Hominy needs his past identity to find stability in himself. It also reminds people of the need for freedom of choice. Bonbon raises segregation on a bus which reminds people of all they fought for in the Civil Rights Movement to get to the present. When he segregates education it is the white people that want to get into the black school, not the other way around. Loss of freedoms. Loss of identity. Loss of respect for each other. Ultimately Bonbon's losses and failure climax at the Supreme Court where he is charged with violated the 13th and 14th Amendments. He does act in the end and he does make a point and finding himself and meaning in the world. 

Having read "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates and "The Sellout", I find that they both have this underlying anger toward institutionalized racism, except Beatty's book moves beyond the black issue and picks up what it means to be human. The question regarding the meaning of life gives the theme of identity a universalness that applies to more than just the black race; plus, Beatty's emphasis on self-awareness is one that suggests people can move forward. Coates does not offer any hope in his book. At least I felt more like an outsider looking at the back experience versus Beatty's look at racism in general. If you don't give a dickens to whether or not the characters are underdeveloped and the plot is ghostly, but want political incorrectness, laughter, and a mix of intellectual and vulgar street talk then give this a go. It is definitely an original.

5 Smileys

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) by Rick Riordan

Norsk myth is not as vast as Greek or Roman myth when it comes to the gods. The fragmented Skaldic poetry is difficult to decipher with its kennings and the narrative framework is skeletal at times. However, they are rich in meaning showing pre-Christian beliefs and practices in a dramatic narrative. A good storyteller retells the myths in new versions that are their own but also represent the originals. Rick Riordan does just that crafting heroes, gods, goddesses, and giants from myths that are a twist on the original tales with contemporary conflicts and pop culture adding humor and unique characters. Take Heimdall, the god that guards the Rainbow Bridge; he loves to take selfies on his phablet and checks out the world only through those selfies. He's bored and no longer doing his job particularly well which is to listen to threats in the world. The heroes of the story have to coax him back into doing his job.

Riordan layers his characters with themes presenting them as entertaining stock characters or contemporary ones giving depth to the story. Thor is presented as an egocentric dork that loves to stream movies and take the credit for everything along with his wife, Sif, who is vain; yet, both come through when needed by the heroes. Thor was the most popular god for the average person in ancient times. In the Icelandic Sagas by Snorri Sturluson, the adventure he tells of Thor and Loki where Thor poses as a woman marrying Utgard-Loki is full of humor and loss of face for Thor. Riordan weaves this story brilliantly into his plot so that the humans have to face the similar issues, but with the help of the gods are able to outwit the giants.

Riordan also peppers his stories with strong females. The Utgard-Loki marriage shows the female giant is the brains of the operation. The children of Loki are gender fluid characters, Alex and Sam. They are complex, strong, and vulnerable as they search for their identities. Alex can't control her gender changes and has suffered prejudice from others her whole life. It makes her or him aloof and temperamental, but Alex embraces his or her identity and is more confident than Sam, her sister. Sam is gender fluid as well but has never changed into a boy. She is a devote Muslim that works for the gods and while her religious identity is solid her personal identity is shaken as Loki can control her.  Alex says it is because she has not embraced her gender fluid side. Her character arc is not finished and it will be interesting to see what happens in the sequels.

The Viking myths, according to Kevin Crossley-Holland in "Norse Myths," relied on the family unit as they were stronger as one versus individually. They were fiercely loyal to friends and family and they strongly believed in Fate; however, Fate didn't give them a negative outlook - instead they admired those who laughed or endured a noble death. Riordan captures this in his books. The overarching message is that the protagonist, Magnus, values family whether they are blood relatives or not. His adventures carry the strong theme of courage, loyalty to friends, and embracing diversity in each other.

Skaldic poems contain myths, eulogies, and elegies that celebrate people or gods during the 9th to 13th century. They are difficult to understand because of their metaphorical references to contemporary people. The word, "gold," might mean "Freya's tears," and a modern-day reader would have to know the story of Loki tricking Freya by cutting off her hair and replacing it with gold to understand the poetic line. Riordan pokes fun at kennings making up his own or using some originals. My favorite made-up line is directed at Thor, who is referred to as, "Bright Crack" and Alex making a wisecrack about a "Plumber's Crack". Actually, Thor's hall is called, "Lightning Crack" or "Bright Crack" or "Bilskirnir".  Other metaphors difficult  to interpret are: "Bane of wood", that means, "fire"; or "bloodworm", that means "sword." Riordan adds much humor using irony and play-on-words.

The story of the cursed ring  is cleverly worked into the plot (I guess if I had to make up a kenning I'd call it, "Andvari's tears"). It takes the original Norsk tale and places it in a realistic portrayal of a deaf elf whose father has rejected him and blamed him for the deaths of his son and mother - a universal theme that readers can relate to today as much as in ancient times. The ring corrupts the bearer in both the original and here, and the reader will have to wait for the sequel to see what happens to the elf's father. Between Sam's unfinished business and the deaf elf, I'll be picking up book three.

4 Smileys

Friday, October 28, 2016

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

I have two books at home that tangle with the concept of intertextuality in children's literature. It's not supposed to be a tangle, but I can't understand most of the scholarly writing. Thomas Foster simplifies some complex literary theories, such as intertextuality and Northrop Frye's discussion of literary archetypes. The conversational tone, humor, and manageable chapters make this an excellent book at showing what students or reading enthusiasts should be looking for in literature to get a deeper understanding and analysis of texts. He shows what elements make a book distinguished and while he acknowledges that he can't discuss them all, he does give some universal ones that readers can look for while reading. This is a terrific read for developing critical thinking skills in literature.

Twenty-seven chapters give bite-sized advice as to how to get more meaning out of texts. He shows how to look for common metaphors, themes, historical settings, literary forms, symbols, history of literature, pop culture, and more. If an author keeps mentioning a Greek myth, the pattern should reveal a larger truth about the overall message of the text. If certain images keep coming up, what is the author saying about the character or theme? He brings the elements and theory all together at the end in a wonderful analysis of a short story. He shows a reader's response that is based on a surface reading, then another student's that is more in-depth. Last, he analysizes the story using theory and elements with the aplomb and mastery of one who loves his topic and has studied it his whole life. A must for your library.

5 Smileys

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It's hard writing about classics, especially if you don't particularly like the story. Even with its elegant phrasing and kooky characters, Pride and Prejudice is mostly dialogue, romantic, and full of irony - which was amusing at times, but I got bored with the lack of action and just felt bad that the only prospects for women during the ninteenth century were marriage or spinsterhood. But in all fairness, I had to stop listening to this audiotape with modern sensibilities and employ some empathy for its historical time period. The limited choices of Victorian women made for an interesting glimpse into the past and much of the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet's, dialogue is ironically against the Romantic notions and trend of her times; her female protagonist is an intellect instead of a highly emotional being with great natural beauty. Jane Austen is admirable in that she pushed against prevailing winds creating unique characters. Once I focused on the irony I was able to enjoy the humor and extremeness in the characters and able to finish listening to the audiobook.

Twenty-year-old Elizabeth is second child of the Bennet's five daughters. She has the choice of being married to a man she doesn't love or refusing him. She is witty, judgmental, and independent. Elizabeth can't get a job and if she doesn't marry she is dependent on other relatives to take care of her. Because her father only has daughters his estate will be passed onto his nephew and his daughters' futures are uncertain unless they marry for financial stability. Elizabeth's mother sees marriage as the only solution, and when the unappealing Mr. Collins makes her an offer that will keep their home in the family, Elizabeth forcefully turns him down; she wants to marry for love. Prospects for women during this time period were to marry, manage a household, and education was not a priority. Elizabeth has educated herself from her father's library and has enough impertinence to show her intellectual wit but not be offensive.

Elizabeth prides herself in her ability to judge other characters but is quick to reach conclusions based on gossip and heresay. The result is a prejudiced character that shows a lack of moral wisdom in an otherwise bright person. She's not exactly likable but she also mirrors how people can judge others quickly with first impressions and how class divisions can lead to prejudices. The object of her prejudice is Mr. Darcy, an upper class wealthy man that acts too good for others when she first meets him. She is of a lower class with her less rich family and money is a strong theme that streams throughout the story. Mr. Darcy's pride at his wealth causing him to snub one of Elizabeth's sisters at a dance and later he is gossiped about negatively by most people Elizabeth knows in her social circle. The gossip is extreme and turned me off until I realized Austen was being ironic.

Elizabeth changes by the end and addresses her pride and prejudices as does Mr. Darcy. Their character arcs show irony in their foolish behavior and hypocrisy. The supporting characters are almost allegorical in their support of Elizabeth's prejudice and Mr. Darcy's pride. From the first time we meet Mrs. Bennet she reveals prejudices in her preconceived opinions of others that are not based on reason. She's a buffoon and adds humor with her obtuse behavior. Lydia, Mrs. Bennet's favorite daughter is just like her mother. She runs off with a man of questionable intentions and doesn't even realize the risk she incurred by living with a man for two weeks. A woman with a ruined reputation can be disowned leading to financial and social ruin. Lydia doesn't even realize the precipice she was on when she gallivanted off with Wickham. Lady Catherine is prejudiced against Elizabeth's lower class and self-absorbed.

Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, detaches himself from his wife's mission of marrying off his daughters. He represents pride and is satisfied with his own achievements not worrying about his daughters' future. Mr. Collins represents pride in himself and his money to the point that he plans on "buying" his bride whether she loves him or not. Elizabeth refuses his marriage proposal and he is so full of himself he thinks she's playing hard-to-get. These are just a few of the many characters that embody the moral implications of displaying pride and prejudice; except Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are the two that actually change their ways. A richly layered book, great study of irony, foils, and easy to see why it is a classic.

5 Smileys

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

From the get-go you know this is going to be a different story with the first line of chapter 1: The corn was talking to him again. A mix of fairy tale, Greek myth, mystery, science and realism, Laura Ruby creates a tale of her own that doesn't quite adhere to any one genre. I'm not sure how my realistic, non-fantasy reading buddies would like it (Angela and Karen). It worked for me and reminded me a bit of a young adult version of "Breadcrumbs," by Anne Ursu. Layers of meaning are honeycombed throughout the plot making for discussions on abuse, bullies, definition of beauty, treatment of women, disabilities, parental absence, peer pressure, and more. The imagery, word choice, and symbolism found in the bees, names (or lack of), agrarian setting, and myths of past literature enrich the plot and make for a page-turner targeted toward middle school, high school, or adult readers. This goes on my burn-the-dinner list.

Eighteen-year-old Finn O'Sullivan doesn't look anyone in the eye, but the small town of Bone Gap accepts his idiosyncrasies until the day Roza disappears. As the only eye-witness, Finn watched her leave and is not sure if she went of her own free will or was kidnapped. Finn along with his older brother, Sean,  try to cope with two people abandoning them in their lives. Their mother had left them for an orthodontist a few years earlier spoiling Sean's plans to go to medical school and leaving Finn in his care. Finn can't describe the man Roza left with in great detail and blames himself for letting her go or not rescuing her.

The various points of view include Roza's story that takes a magical turn when her abductor does the impossible of creating alternate worlds and answering her any wish, (except the only one that matters which is to set her free). The author shrouds Roza in mystery slowly unveiling her past, providing good pacing and tension. When a magical black horse shows up and Finn takes interest in Petey, an unattractive peer, the mystery or myth starts to unfold and take shape drawing all the different elements and genres into a satisfying ending.

*spoiler* I'll try not to reveal too much of the plot.

Comparisons with the Greek myth of Persephone and Roza are obvious. Persephone represents the harvest and fertility of vegetation. Much imagery is devoted to Roza who can grow anything in the boy's garden, goes to school for botany, and whose plants wilt and die after she leaves. In the myth Persephone's beauty draws unwanted attention from other gods and when Hades kidnaps her she becomes Queen of the Underworld. Roza's preternatural  beauty causes her to be abducted by a man in a black SUV who gives her anything she wants but won't let her leave his domain; there is even a reference to pomegranates. Roza has had to deal with unwanted attention from men in the past and she reflects on it while imprisoned.

When a magical black horse shows up at Finns house, he and Petey take some midnight rides that don't seem quite real as the horse leaps distances that are impossible. I knew I was missing the significance of this reference and it wasn't until I read a Maile Meloy's New York Times article  did she remind me that Persephone's mother, Demeter, went in the form of a black horse. She's referring to the myth where Poseidon raped Demeter when she was searching for Persephone; they were in the form of horses and she became pregnant from the episode. The river in the book is surreal too and reminded me of the River Styx.

The subplot of Finn falling in love with Petey and the idea of beauty evolves throughout the story. Roza and Petey are judged by their appearances but the two do not let the world define them as such. Roza is competent and practical. She can stitch up a gash, grow enough food for the three, and jump out of a moving car to save herself from unwanted attentions. Petey, who is considered ugly, determines that she is interesting, even beautiful, inside. The way Petey reflects about this through the science of bees is fascinating and not overly technical.

Finn and Sean, as characters, must deal with male expectations. Sean is expected to be a conventional hero and save Roza, but he is broken and hurt inside from being abandoned by his mother. Finn, being good-looking and "pretty", is attracted to what society would label an unattractive girl. Both boys have to come to terms with societal versus individual expectations and find the courage to be true to themselves. The author's deft character development is one of many elements well done in this tale. Don't miss it.

5 Smileys

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (BBC radio dramatization)

Three strikes in three decades is my score for trying to read, "The Lord of the Rings." The pacing at the start puts me to sleep. I struggled with "Slaughterhouse Five" as a college student, but later listened to the audio book  and was able to finish it. Ditto Shakespeare. This audio book on "The Fellowship of the Ring," was a winner and the dramatization included music and sound effects that slammed the door on my problems with pacing or focusing issues. I listened each night on the elliptical machine and found it hard to turn off. A study in high fantasy with a classic hero in Aragorn and a common hero in Frodo.

Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit, lives a comfortable life in the Shire and has inherited the Ring of Power from Bilbo Baggins, the hero from "The Hobbit." When the wizard, Gandalf, comes to his house and reveals that the evil wizard, Sauron, is after the ring to control all the earth, Frodo sets out to destroy the ring. He is an unlikely and simple hero aided by friends, including the most heroic of the men, Aragorn. The task of the ring falls on the weakest of them, a hobbit who would prefer not to sacrifice himself, but he rises to the occasion and is the only creature able to resist the ring because he is not drawn by desires to seek power and worldliness. His naivety and simpleness make him the best candidate for success at destroying the ring as Gandalf and Aragorn both know when Frodo offers the ring to them and they realize the the power would be too tempting for them. Frodo's lack of desire for power makes him the best candidate for the quest.

I read a terrific book, "A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18" by Joseph Loconte that shows how the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an allegory for World War I with the Hobbits similar to common soldiers and Aragorn and Gandalf similar to military and political leaders making decisions regarding the war. It is a fascinating look at history and analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis's novels. It was one the main reasons I decided to try and read the book again. The hobbits are like the common soldier and don't really know what danger they are approaching, but they have each others backs no matter what and are willing to die for one another. Gandalf and Aragorn are like the world leaders involved in the war.

I still think the start is slow before launching into the quest and picking up in excitement. But this time the audio book helped me be patient. I think Tolkien's in-depth background development of the Shire is to show the domestic contentedness of the hobbits and their lack of desire to be heroes. They are drawn into a battle that they have no desire to be a part of. Because they like simple pleasures and are not tempted by power as most of the other characters in the book, they show the common person as being the hero and this allows the reader to empathize with them.  Aragorn proves his king-like qualities not by physical strength but his handling of the hobbits when he first meets them by playing on their fears and then using wit to ingratiate himself before revealing his letter from Gandalf.

It's the hobbit show, not Aragorn's victories in battle, that save and endear the reader. Frodo incorporates the high qualities of Aragorn's world and the hobbits because he is the wisest and bravest in that he is humble and admits his fears but still strikes forth on the quest to destroy the ring. This is why he is chosen for the task. Only he can resist the corrupting power of the ring to at least get it to the edge of the fire until powers beyond his control destroy it.  Even Frodo cannot resist the temptation of the ring. Tolkien's world building, character development, linguistic genius is astonishing in its brilliance, as most of you know. If you are having problems getting through a book, try an audio book. It felt like a home run this time round. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

On a date with my husband 33 years ago we went cross country skiing at a challenging and hilly course. He had skied the Birkebeiner in Wisconsin and was on the cross country ski team in high school. On one steep, icy hill my ski went out of the track into the opposite one for oncoming ski traffic going up the hill. Straddling both tracks and yelling I had a spectacular crash at the bottom that released my skis like javelins in all directions. He skied down the hill like he was on ice skates, swished both skis together to a full stop and extended a hand to help me up. My cross country skis have a high or stiff camber that allow me to fly down hills completely out of control at high speeds. Great fun. Orville and Wilbur had problems with camber in the second design of their plane as experiments up to that point had a camber ratio that affected stability and caused the plane to crash. Their patented wing warping design had them experimenting with the camber to discover the ideal ratio for their gliders. The camber issue made me think of all my skiing fiascos.

One strength of this book is showing how the Wright brothers experimented, tested, improved, and did not give up in their pursuit of flight. They represent the engineering design process that educators teach to students in elementary school and up. And the author mixes in the human side of the Wright family with their aeronautical achievements to make a highly readable, educational, and entertaining book. As public figures, Orville and Wilbur did not seek nor celebrate fame, but were true to their sole purpose of learning to fly. Their sister Katharine was high-tempered ("wrathy"), opinionated, loyal, and caring. She was the spitfire of the three and added color to the the brothers' story. Wilbur was brilliant and Orville a mechanical genius. The family had arguments but was mainly close and supportive over the years.

The Wright brothers had a successful bicycle business for many years before the idea of flight consumed much of their time. They built a glider and tested it at Kitty Hawk, a rugged island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where the wind always blew. Living out of a tent they refined and tested their planes eventually succeeding at flying one. They added an engine later in the designs. Katharine helped manage the bicycle business while teaching at a nearby hospital and Charlie Taylor ran the shop while they were at Kitty Hawk as well as being critical in building the engine the Wrights' used on one of their gliders.

Once they had accomplished successful flights, the Wrights had problems with legitimizing their claims of success with the U.S. government. Part of this was their way of going about business. The brothers were afraid of others stealing their ideas and were waiting for a patent so they would not fly for anyone unless the interested party signed a contract before their demonstration. The U.S. government was not interested in their proposition, but France was and Wilbur went there for demonstrations and a contract. The publicity made the U.S. take interest. Later the U.S. army offered a contract and Orville provided demonstrations. After a serious crash, Orville was nursed back to health by Katharine while Wilbur continued with demonstrations in Europe. Orville and Katharine joined Wilbur in Paris and they met with kings from different countries and other influential people. They were a sensation and enjoyed the fame while their father, a Bishop, continually reminded them to stay grounded.

The Wright brothers were self-educated and persevered no matter what the set back. Their educated father had an extensive personal library that allowed for the children to read the likes of "Dickens, Washington Irving, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, a complete set of the works of Sir Walter Scott, the poems of Virgil, Plutarch's 'Lives,' Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' Boswell's 'Life of Johnson,' Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' and Thucydides. There were books on natural history, a six-volume history of France, travel, 'The Instructive Speller,' Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species,' plus two full sets of encyclopedias." Once back in the U.S. the brothers, particularly Wilbur, spent many years on patent lawsuits that David McCullough skims over. This is a fairly short book and is not highly technical. This may appeal to some and to others they might want less camber. The pacing and mix of technical and human side of the Wrights was just right for me. See if it's Wright for you.

5 Smileys

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Killer Angels (The Civil War Trilogy, #2) by Michael Shaara

Michael Shaara brilliantly mixes historical facts with fictional elements to create complex characters set during the Battle of Gettysburg. Most of the story is through three characters' point of view: General Robert E. Lee who commanded the Rebel army, Lieutenant-General James Longstreet who commanded a corps, and  Colonel Joshua Chamberlain who commanded a Union regiment. The complexities of the men are captured by Shaara who shows their inner conflicts over loyalty, friends, and professionalism.

The individual characters show broader themes on the effects of leadership in military, conflicting values, and desire for honor, to name a few. Robert E. Lee was revered by the troops and willing to die for him. Even Longstreet, who disagreed to the core with Lee's strategic decision, would not forsake his post nor go against Lee's commands. General Lee reflected an old way of life that had its roots in England where gentleman, honor, and chivalry prevailed in a ruling elite or aristocracy. The North had its money in cities where any individual could become wealthy without the stronger class distinctions of the South. While the war is known as being fought to free the slaves, it was more complex in terms of an old way of life being threatened by a new way. Some of the minor characters such as Stuart and Fremantle enforce this notion while also adding some comic relief.

Longstreet did not fight for a cause and Lee chastised him over it. The two reflect the professionalism they felt toward each other as soldiers and while he was loyal to Lee, he did not fight for a Cause, but fought to win. He was a complex man that wanted to fit in with his soldiers but he was a frontiersman and not an aristocrat; thus, feeling separate from those around him. One wonders at Longstreet's lack of commitment and inability to communicate with Lee regarding statistical numbers of climbing the hill. He was brilliant with military tactics and far ahead of the times, but couldn't seem to be heard by Lee or other leaders. Yet the two relied on each other and cared deeply for each other's well-being. While other aristocratic leaders like Pickett were enthusiastic about leading the charge of the Gettysburg hill, he later blamed Lee for the death of over half his men. Longstreet knew that the chance of winning was statistically low, but hoped the loyalty of the soldiers toward Lee would produce a miracle. Instead, the Rebel army never recovered from the Battle losing many of their commanding officers and proving Longstreet right.

The Union soldier Joshua Chamberlain, who was a professor at Bowdain before enlisting, shows the only character that was actually in the battle. Lee and Longstreet observed from a distance while Chamberlain led a regiment. He had respect for the enemy and admires their courage. His leadership when the Union soldiers repelled the Rebels from flanking the army showed bravery and wit that made a big difference in the Battle of Gettysburg. He led his soldiers by following three tenants: be courageous, be decisive, and care about his soldiers. He also has a brother in his regiment and shows the difficulty of relying on him and wanting to protect him at the same time.

Chamberlain shows that he does have a Cause: "He had grown up believing in America and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God. This was the land where no man had to bow. In this place at last a man could stand up free of the past, free of tradition and blood ties and the curse of royalty and become what he wished to become. ...Here we judge you by what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. Here's a place to build a home. It isn't the land - there's always more land. It's the idea that we all value, you and me, we're worth something more than dirt. ...What we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other." He was fighting for freedom not only for blacks but from the old way of life or traditions carried specifically by the English.

While Lee and Longstreet are a look into generalship, Chamberlain reveals what it is like to be in the midst of battle. Studying the complexities of the characters gives a microscopic look into what reflects the bigger issues in military leadership and fundamentals of combat. I didn't realize that this is book 2 in a trilogy. It is not necessary to read book one. I was able to follow the story and characters, although I read it on an eReader and could not see the maps detailing the battle. That was a bit frustrating. A fascinating read that is incredibly well-written about the Civil War.

5 Smileys

All Our Yesterdays (All Our Yesterdays #1) by Cristin Terrill

This had potential but the focus on the romantic subplot over the time travel weakened it and made for some slow reading, particularly in the beginning. Marina is sixteen and comes from a rich family where the dad works all the time and the mom is unhappy with her inability to be successful as an artist. Marina makes friends with James, the neighbor, a couple of years older than her, whose parents died and is being raised by Nate, his Congressman brother. James has a 168 IQ and is working on his Ph.D. He struggles with relationships except with Marina and Finn, a friend from school. When a tragedy happens, Marina and Finn are there for James as they try to unravel the mystery.

I would have liked more focus on the mystery or time travel than the romance. There are too many gaps in it and the end rushes the answers rather than slowly unveiling them throughout the plot. The beginning pacing with Em was good but it went from clues into the romantic subplot. Marina has a girl crush on James but by the end it is supposed to be deeper, only it doesn't make sense after all he's done to her. In the beginning Marina's storyline as a young and shallow person is weak compared to Em's that is full of tension. I thought the tension got lost during the romantic subplot and some of the plot twists obvious. Except the ending. That was confusing and poorly done with flashbacks. Finn's background relationship with James isn't really explained. James is out of school but the two met in school? Except he's a new friend. Perhaps I missed something.

There are some stereotypes that left me uncomfortable. Marina's parents are one dimensional self-centered people, while Luz is the motherly type in Marina's life. This is not developed. Marina wears dorky pajamas Luz gave her over to James house that shows actually how much she loves Luz. There are more instances but they are few and far between. Also, the author tells the reader how Marina feels more than shows and it works against creating a complex character. The first person point of view also works against giving rounded characters. James becomes a one dimensional character and Finn isn't developed enough to understand his motives except being in love with Em. Time travel books and movies are found in abundance and when done well can be very interesting, but this one misses the mark for me.

3 Smileys

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

I collapsed after reading this. What a slog. Good, but dense, detailed, and darn long. I don't particularly care for Jared Diamond's writing style. He's detailed, scholarly, and repetitive. There is so much information I had to take frequent breaks and snatch some quick reads in-between chapters. I almost abandoned it a few times but then I'd find a different chapter interesting and get hooked again. Diamond has solid arguments for explaining why societies collapse and while fascinating, he's overly detailed in spots - at least for me. His thesis shows five factors that influence the collapse of a society: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, decreased support by friendly neighbors, and society's response to environmental problems. The book is full of great information and I can see recommending students to read certain chapters, but not the whole shebang - unless they are persistent readers.

Many of the societies he examines collapsed because of their fragile environments. While Diamond doesn't play judge and is sympathetic toward those who made decisions that were wrong and caused the downfall of their societies from ancient to modern times, he is judgmental against those who obviously don't care about the environment, who "rape-and-run" making quick cash and leave environmental disasters for citizens and governments to clean up. He balances this analysis of greedy businesses with stellar businesses whose good practices show how everyone can benefit when a company creates a product that respects the environment.

"Environmental determinism" looks at the physical environment such as climate and geography trying to determine how it affects societies. This concept has had negative press over the years and has led to some people using racism or superiority of intellect over other cultures based the oppressor being smarter than the suppressed group of people. Diamond is always refuting this and he also takes his studies further looking at multiple aspects of a hypothesis that include climate, geography, botany, science, economics and more. It is one reason his books are so dense and slow to read. But they are fascinating and require thoughtful reflection.

He has quite a few great quotes and I would have expanded on them if my Nook eReader hadn't deleted all my highlights. I will try to remember some from my bad memory. The genocide in Rwanda was a product of land disputes, deforestation, exports, and too many people living in extreme poverty. There was a direct correlation between starvation and increased crime. Diamond explains how the ethnic violence was not based solely on ethnic hatred but tied in with land disputes. The argument is compelling and interesting. Australia's fragile environment is a great chapter to read as well.

Diamond discusses the rarity of a leader who has the courage to anticipate a potential problem and take steps to solve it before it becomes a crisis. "Such leaders expose themselves to criticism or ridicule before it becomes obvious to everyone that some action is necessary." Think of all the leaders you've come across in your life that surround themselves with people that tell them what they want to hear. The ability to listen to criticism and use it constructively and not be corrupted by power is not the norm.

I thought "Collapse" and "Gun, Germs, and Steel" both had first chapters that were hard to get through. This one is too detailed on Montana and slowed the pacing. The ancient societies that collapsed were not quite as interesting as the modern ones as his analysis is more complex because he has more information to prove his hypothesis. The author is quite brilliant and worth reading.

3 Smileys

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

We are moving to South Africa so I thought I had better read this bestseller from 1948. I listened to the audiobook performed by the actor, Michael York. His incredible voice changes helped me visualize the characters; however, I should have read the book as my weakest learning style is auditory and it took me awhile to get the African village names and characters sorted. The Reverend Stephen Kumalo, who lives in Ndotsheni, a village in eastern South Africa, receives a letter saying his sister, Gertrude, is ill and he should come to Johannesburg. Kumalo hopes to find his son, Absalom, who has also gone to Johannesburg and he has not heard from in a few years. In Johannesburg, Kumalo is assisted by Msimangu, the priest that sent him the letter, and the two set off to find Gertrude and Absalom. Along the way they see economic and social conditions that gave rise to apartheid. Alan Paton's writing is lyrical and full of emotion; a social protest novel that reveals the political and social issues of the time. I think it would be good paired with "Things Fall Apart," that shows the breakdown of the tribe from a black man's perspective; whereas, "Cry the Beloved Country," is from a white man's perspective that reveals postcolonial attitudes of liberalism and Christian paternalism.

Kumalo and Msimangu are good men that travel from place to place observing how the black man has lost "his tribe" and support system since white men has colonized Africa. Kumalo comes from the country and views the city as a corrupting influence on young people. Traditions with a chief as head of the tribe and support system of others members who teach moral behavior has been replaced by the white man's influence and this is represented in the lawless city of Johannesburg. The result is corruption as people live in fear.

Kumalo begins his journey rooted in the old ways and once he travels to Johannesburg he discovers that the world has changed and he must change with it. The erosion of African society is symbolized in representations of a barren land and the erosion of the red soil that bleeds into the rivers like an open wound. Stephen Kumalo's home is decaying with his sister turning to prostitution and his son committing murder. Kumalo clings to the old ways at first realizing that he must change by the end to adapt to a changing world, but he suffers terribly along the way and like Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Kumalo must lose his son, sister, and family before gaining a new one. He realizes that he must reach out to help those in need or suffering and give to them selflessly; hence, creating a new tribe.

Kumalo meets his brother, John, who has rejected the tribe but who has an incredible voice or speaking ability that others listen to, but he is corrupt and only thinks of himself. He is hollow and unreliable as a friend or relative. A foil to him is Dubula, a man that is the voice of the boycott. His motives are unselfish and Kumalo and Msimangu realize that he would make a great leader because power would not corrupt him. He's morally stable, unlike John Kumalo. Many times throughout the novel the power of corruption is brought up and it is the self-sacrificing men that are held up as examples to emulate.

The economic and deplorable social conditions are revealed throughout the journey, but it is mainly through James Jarvis that the white person is supposed to recognize actions he or she can take to help mend the gap with blacks. James Jarvis is a country man like Kumalo and when his son is murdered he reads his notes discovering his son thought deeply about the racial problems and was trying to change the world to be a better place. James is changed and decides to work for a solution toward helping the tribe. He introduces a man that shows the blacks agricultural methods that will help till the soil or heal a broken land by beginning something new for the blacks.

When I read, "Huckleberry Finn," as an adult I could see why others took offense at the stereotypical portrayal of blacks. In Paton's novel, the whites are superior and the blacks are left with the whites making morally correct decisions to benefit them. Stephen calls James Jarvis an angel because he's showing the natives agricultural techniques and he's building a new church which allowed him to remain a pastor there. This is supposed to help them with the tribal displacement but it is always the whites in this story that have the knowledge and vision for the tribes. Paton wanted South African natives to embrace Christianity because this would lead to moral living and he suggests farming as a way to get back in touch with the land.

I've been reading Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse," about elements that lead to a society's demise. Poverty, over farming, deforestation, climate, and environmental issues are usually significant factors along with different catalysts that cause the collapse. Paton focuses mostly on moral decay and the break down of the tribe. While Paton's attempt to change racial injustices is noble, his story shows at the same time the attitudes of the day full of colonial views of an enlightened Western civilization replacing a barbarian one. Many find his book outdated because of his portrayal of blacks. For further reading on this topic, I put the article at the bottom of the page. This is a story that will lead to plenty of discussions.

5 Smileys

Source: Paternalism, Ideology, and Ideological Critique: Teaching "Cry, the Beloved Country" Author(s): Patrick Colm Hogan
Source: College Literature, Vol. 19/20, No. 3/1, Teaching Postcolonial and Commonwealth Literatures (Oct., 1992 - Feb., 1993), pp. 206-210
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 08-06-2016 15:44 UTC 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Booked by Kwame Alexander

This book-in-verse (or is it verse-in-book? novel-in-verse? or a novel inverse? or inverse novel? I shouldn't be writing a book review last crazy week of school) about a boy who loves soccer and is dealing with the divorce of his parents. Kwame Alexander can pound out images and rhythms that will make you beat through the pages like a drummer. While "Crossover," the 2015 Newbery Winner was on basketball this one is on soccer. Except the sport takes back seat to the power of words as Nick Hall learns to use them against teachers, parents, wooing a girl, and friends at school. He says he hates words since his dad is a professor and "verbomaniac" who has written a dictionary he's making Nick memorize. But Nick likes words. If he didn't he wouldn't fling around words like "limerence," "codswallop," or "ragabash". This story might leave you with "onomatophobia", but it sure is a heck-of-alot of fun.

Twelve-year-old Nick Hall daydreams in class getting the teacher's unwanted attention. He uses words in a clever way to charm her on to Team Nick before using the same technique to get a girlfriend. Although shy and scared of girls, his words come through for him in the end. His mom and dad are splitting up and he goes through grief as his athletic mom leaves to train horses in Kentucky. When he expresses how upset he is he finds the power of words to bring his mom back and find some equilibrium in a rough time. Cody is his soccer friend who he joke-brags with they are on rival soccer teams and will play each other in a prestigious tournament. When things fall apart, the rapping librarian hooks Nick onto reading and a book club where he discovers books help him articulate what he's going through in his life at the moment (and win the girl of his dreams).

The end doesn't tell the reader what was in the mysterious dragonfly box. A dragonfly symbolizes change and self-realization which is Nick's character arc in the story. If I had time I'd look into rappers. I'm sure the author is doing more with the verses than I can tell but I'm on a break away - I have a parent waiting for this book at the circulation desk and I'm trying to write this as fast as I can. If I shoot this review over the goal or you think it is ragabash, that's why.  (Ah... I see on my labels/tags that I usually use novel-in-verse. Long day.)

5 Smileys

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci

This graphic novel is well done, but I'll have to send it up to the middle school library as it is too young adult for elementary students. Ozge Samanci's minimalist illustrations and dry sense of humor make this an excellent look into what it was like growing up in Turkey. The heart of the story is about Ozge trying to figure out what she wants to do in life and the difficulty of trying to live up to her father's expectations and imitate her brilliant older sister. She recounts the political and cultural upheavals growing up and the dangerous culture she lived in. A near rape, prejudice from extreme ideologies at school, and fierce competition of trying to make it into prestigious schools make this a page turner. Ozge never takes herself too seriously though and the humor and lightness balance out the dark incidents. A terrific read.

Ozge grew up in a middle class family with two parents that were educators and nonreligious. They raised Ozge to be strong and wanted her to have a good job. Getting into the top high schools and universities was competitive and difficult. Ozge chronicles this difficult journey that show flaws in an educational system many will relate too. Her path of self-discovery follows first in her sister's footsteps and she fails, next she tries to follow her father's path and fails, and last she tries to follow her own heart and fails. She never gives up and finds, with the help of family and some loyal friends that help tutor her through her classes so she can pass, that she is able to discover her passion for drawing. It is the failures and resilience to learn from her mistakes that are a part of Ozge's journey of discovering what she wants to do with her life - something we all can relate to. She is one brave person that is easy to cheer on as she works through issues.

The author does a good job explaining the different leaders of the country and how they affected her country. A funny bird crops up on many of these pictures with some wisecrack comment. She shows the leaders saying one thing but doing the opposite in private while the bird hangs upside down on the president's speech bubble saying, "Liar." Later, she's trying to get the courage to tell her mom about her teacher's corporal punishment of all the students in the classroom and the bird is making light of the incident. Ozge is a strong-willed girl willing to stand-up for herself. She's a bit of a loose cannon as a young kid and her yellow hair that shoots out all over the place reflects her high spirits. There are pictures of her friends with rock star posters in their bedroom and Ozge has Jacques Cousteau because she's going to be a famous diver. Later, she humorously "talks" to Poster Jacques trying to sort out what she wants to be in life. The page where she is suspended for speaking her mind at school and criticizing the play chosen for the theater production is a hoot. The close-up photo of the suspension letter with her miniaturized and sliding down its folded edge off the page with the bird and its speech bubble saying, "Bye," is one of my favorites. I'm sure you'll find your favorites too.

5 Smileys

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen (Illustrations)

This story is bound to no particular time and place and reminds me of Aesop's fables with its moral at the end. A lack of setting is common in fables and allows readers to relate the moral to their own place or situation. Sara Pennypacker's book, "Pax," uses this technique. It is set in a place where humans are at war and the animals are victims as much as the people. When Aesop was in Greece he used the fable to voice his opinions that were leveled against those in power. Here the fable is leveled at adults in authoritative positions or that control children. Several characters reveal the choices they make in life; whether they choose right from wrong and recognize when to take a stand against a person or institution. While I found the start hard to get into, I did get engrossed once the character, Vola, was introduced and the book's style became clear. This is definitely original and Pennypacker has great sentence fluency. Her turn of phrase and word choice shows an author that knows her craft. The rich layers of meaning will lead to many discussions.

Twelve-year-old Peter is forced by his dad to abandon his pet fox when his dad enlists in the war. The two are on their way to grandpa's house who is going to care for Peter while his dad is gone. Once Peter arrives, he runs away determined to retrieve his fox whom he has had for five years just after his mother died. The three-hundred mile journey to retrieve the fox is full of obstacles. Peter gets help from a woman, Vola, who has abandoned the world after serving in a war twenty years earlier that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. The voices alternate between Peter and Pax, his fox.

The lack of setting and slow character build-up made me slog through the beginning. I didn't really figure out that I should be reading it as a fable until page 66 when the gray fox makes comments about humans being careless in war and destroying animals in the process. It is also a coming-of-age book as Peter loses his childhood innocence making decisions on his own and contemplating the effects of deceit internally and with Vola. They discover the difficulty of facing the truth about themselves. The author shows the adults as being "war-sick" and destructive toward animals and humans. Peter's dad abandons him just like Peter abandoned his fox.

Peter's loss of innocence is shown from the fox's point of view. He tells the female fox, Bristle, about how Peter has become false-acting. He tossed a toy deceptively getting Pax to think they were playing a game but then drove off in the car. However, Pax makes a point to tell Bristle that Peter is not war-sick like the adults. He is not full of hate or anger  and wants to destroy, but can show love. Peter knows it was wrong to let Pax go like that and while he recognizes that his dad didn't give him a choice he feels guilty for not standing up to him and insisting Pax stay. He is trying to make it right.

Peter's point of view shows him learning to live without the fox and face his grief and guilt over losing his mother. Peter blames himself for an accident he had with his baseball bat the last time he saw his mom. This parallels Vola's story of grief and loss as well. "He was becoming foxless, something he'd hadn't been since he was seven years old." Losing Pax was like losing his mother all over again. He and Vola both help each other deal with their losses. 

There are many symbols in the book from the Phoenix to the marionettes to the names given the characters or words spoken. The wooden bat was the most powerful one for me with its imagery of hitting, acting as a crutch, bringing him joy in a sport, and made of wood like the marionettes. He and Vola are like Geppetto and Pinnochio in their carving shop. Much of the storyline follows the destructive path of anger and how it can be productive if directed in a proper way. Vola tries to help Peter understand the difference as he feels that all anger is destructive and tries to hide from his own true feelings rather than face it. The story has great character development along with symbolism even if the setting confused me.

Fables convey an idea indirectly rather than specifically and this is evident in the moral that is stated at the beginning, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," and the end, "Sometimes the apple rolls very far from the tree." The idiom means that children are like their parents. The moral is children do not have to be like their parents, as well as, shows that all humans can make a choice in their attitude. The men in Peter's life choose to be angry and undemonstrative. They choose to hit rather than hug. Peter consciously chooses to love and knows what it means at the end when he gives his pet freedom. The desire for freedom is universal and has fueled many wars. While I struggled a bit getting through this, it was worth it in the end.

5 Smileys

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

The personal anguish of being uprooted and sent to a prison-like internment camp are captured in the character of a young Japanese girl in Lois Sepahban's debut novel. Manami is forced from her home in Bainbridge Island, Washington with other Japanese during World War II. She has no idea what is going on when they leave and sneaks her dog with her under her coat. When soldiers force her to abandon the dog and she arrives at the internment camp, she is traumatized by the event and becomes mute losing her dog, her voice, and her home.

The author targets young readers and simplifies the story focusing on Manami and her internal turmoil. The subplots regarding the forbidden romance between two teachers, the riot at the camp, and residents and not developed or elaborated much. Manami doesn't know why she is at the camp and seems oblivious to the war which didn't ring true. The author shows that Manami's parents don't tell her anything, but wouldn't she hear about it at school? As a 10-year-old she would at least know about the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. She arrives at the camp as an incredibly clueless person. The short choppy sentences reflect a younger person and also one that is from a bilingual home, although this is never stated in the story. I found the story somewhat slow with little character development, but I think students will like the thrust of a girl's grief over losing her pet and home.

3 Smileys

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner

I made the mistake of reading this book thinking it was fiction, but it is historical nonfiction. Because it takes place in the 12th century there is not much dialogue. Sixty pages of footnotes including the dialogue the author show the difficulty of mixing fact with legend, but Turner handles it well. She adds her own humor making this adventure story hard to put down. I'll be surprised if she doesn't win some nonfiction award.

I got lost in the story once I stopped looking for a fiction narrative. The story begins during the time of Japanese history when the samurai took control of the government from the Emperor, making the royal family more of a figurehead than the controls. Two samurai clans, the Taira and Minamoto, fought for control with the Taira taking the emperor hostage and brutally chopping down rivals. They let the baby Yoshitsune survive who lived with the monks before running away as a teenager to become a samurai warrior. His legendary, reckless military tactics helped his brother overthrow the government in a civil war that lasted five years. Yoshitsune was a brilliant strategist and won some critical battles defeating the Taira clan, but he was arrogant, headstrong, and politically ignorant alienating top commanders. His brother,Yoritomo, felt threatened by his popularity and other commanders fed his suspicions.

The legend plays out like a tragedy with the brother, Yoritomo, gaining complete power and sending assassins to kill Yoshitsune who ironically was the reason he had so much power. Yoritomo's suspicious nature and fear of losing power led to him killing off almost all of his loyal followers throughout the years leaving his family and relatives unprotected after his death and easily killed by rivals. This reminds me of Stalin who killed off those closest to him and any who questioned his policies. Yoritomo was an excellent politician who gave into his fears once he became all-powerful.

Yoshitsune was critical to winning several battles as a hit-and-run commander. He'd lead small bands and cause chaos among the enemy. He was a skillful horsemen and had good fortune on the sea driven by confidence. However, his lack of naval experience later in life caused him to make a critical mistake at sea that cost him the chance to rise up against Yoritomo. Throughout his life, Yoshitsune's impulsive, arrogant attitude made him fearless in war but showed he did not have the political experience or foresight to determine possible moves by his enemies. He didn't seem take notice of who he angered or slighted as his superiors and in the end this cost him his life.

History shows different definitions of heroes in cultures. The Vikings hero was a loyal, courageous, aggressive, and scornful of death. They dominated in military strategy on the seas. The samurai were courageous, not afraid to die, and excellent swordsmen. However, the Taira clan was best at sea and the Minamoto clan was best on land with horses. Yoshitsune used this to his advantage in warfare. Samurai were not loyal and would switch sides easily. The society had stratified classes with the commoners at the mercy of those in authority over them. They did not have rights and the samurai, wealthy, and elite had no problem killing commoners in their way in their quests for power. Students will like this book with its focus on martial arts, warfare, heroes, and conquest.

5 Smileys

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

This is my first pick of a Newbery contender book for 2017. Kate DiCamillo's crafting of stories is brilliant and this one will not disappoint fans. Here is a tale where each reader will take away different meanings from themes, symbols, and motifs. This is more fairy tale than anything else with its terse chapters and familiar tropes, but it is also a mixture of historical fiction and adventure; a story that shows how the female characters (both young and old) suffer and are wounded from loss, poverty, abuse, and abandonment in everyday life. These characters need a Florence Nightingale in their life, founder of the nursing profession, and the book protagonist, Raymie Clarke, decides to read to old people in a nursing home. Florence Nightingale walked the battlefields with a lantern looking for the wounded during the Crimean war; the children in DiCamillo's story need a light in the darkness as well, to heal their wounds suffered from abandonment. Better yet, they have to find the light or reason for their existence within themselves. Raymie searches for it and finds that she is stronger than she thinks and that she can rescue others and herself, even if her prince (aka dad) isn't coming home in this fairy tale. The three young girls choose to bond with each other and find happiness in their new friendship. This story is full of hope, healing, and sadness.

Ten-year-old Raymie Nightingale has a plan. She is going to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest because her dad has just run off with a dental hygienist. Her plan is to win and once her dad sees her picture in the paper, he will miss her and come home to her and her mother. He is such a "skunk," he even left without saying goodbye. Not that Raymie acknowledges this. Her inner monologue is innocent and shows a young person that doesn't quite have life's experiences nor the vocabulary to express how she feels. Her understanding is always just out of reach and with each adventure she has with her new friends she steps closer to self-understanding. To enter the contest, Raymie needs a talent as well as perform good deeds which leads her on some crazy adventures with her two friends, Louisiana and Beverly.

*Spoiler alert*
Raymie meets Louisiana and Beverly at baton-twirling lessons. All three are entering the contest and need a skill, except Beverly's mom made her enter the contest even though she didn't want to, which makes Beverly one angry swan, hissing and lashing out at everyone around her and determined to "sabotage" the contest.  Louisiana is malnourished from living in poverty and has "swampy lungs". She's afraid of ending up in a foster home as her Granny doesn't have an income. She's hungry all the time and faints before the first lesson even starts. Beverly slaps Louisiana because that is "what you do" with people who have fainted. The adults in Beverly's life use physical force to make her do what they want and she feels angry at their abuse. Later when Raymie learns her mom punched Beverly in the face for shoplifting, Beverly explains she is going to live on her own and take care of herself. The adults have failed her in her life. Her dad left and her mom is angry at working in a low level job and having to raise her daughter by herself. Beverly's lonely and tough, but she shows a compassionate side when she holds Alice Nebbly's hand in the nursing home when Raymie and Lousiana are afraid of the screaming old lady. Raymie admires Beverly's fearlessness. Beverly's strong personality shows her fighting for control in her life by stealing, sabotaging, and lashing at adult authority. She admires Bonnie and Clyde, probably the most romanticized outlaws in history, and wants to be a criminal like them.

While this is set in 1975, it is more of a fairy tale than historical fiction. The few historical facts create enough background such as Ida Nee's green shag rug, batons, a wood-paneled station wagon, and references to Looney Tunes , Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Gunsmoke, and the Flying Wallendas. I would argue the story is more like a fairy tale than a historical fiction novel. In Jack Zipes, The Original First Edition of the Brothers Grimm, he exposes common themes in fairy tales such as kings who often renege on their promises and exploit children, authoritative people who abuse their power over common people, or children who are brutally treated or abandoned, to name just a few. Fairy tales show the socioeconomic context of the common folk who have little or no control over those in more powerful positions. The fairy tale is a way to point out injustices by poor leaders and try to create change. The transformative power of the fairy tale has evolved over the years reflecting issues in society today. Kate DiCamillo reflects this with the focus on divorce and abandonment and the lack of voice children have with adults due to not being able to express themselves or as in Beverly's case unable to stop the abuse.

Fairy tale characters tend to be innocent or simple-minded, but are actually quite smart - similar to Raymie. They are aided by either magic from objects or people in their pursuit of justice and happiness. Mrs. Sylvester is like a fairy godmother as Raymie seeks her out when she needs protection and comfort. Her candy corn jar is like a magic wand, because in her own words, Mrs Sylvester likes to feed people and the swans by the lake. In the Brothers Grimm's, "The Six Swans," there are six brothers that are changed into swans by a wicked stepmother. They are rescued by their sister who can't speak and must knit them magical shirts to break the curse and return them to their human form. Raymie describes Mrs. Sylvester as standing in the middle of the swans with a "...big bag of swan food in her arms, she looked like something out of a fairy tale. Raymie wasn't sure which fairy tale. Maybe it was a fairy tale that hadn't been told yet." Kate DiCamillo is creating her own fantastic fairy tale with Mrs. Sylvester as someone who feeds the hungry and abandoned such as Raymie and her two friends. When Raymie asks her about her dad leaving with another woman, Mrs. Sylvester says that she believes "most things work out right in the end." She believes in fairy tale endings and suggests Raymie can choose her own happy ending.

Raymie can't go to her mom to discuss her dad leaving because her mom is depressed and can only focus on herself; hence, Raymie seeks out Mrs Sylvester. Raymie's mom is not presented as a villain, just a person completely derailed by her husband leaving her. Raymie has become invisible to her mom who is self-absorbed with her own suffering, just like the old people are presented as invisible in this story. Mrs. Sylvester is also compared to the cat, Sylvester, in the Looney Tunes cartoon but her voice sounds like the big yellow canary named, Tweety Bird. She's like a hybrid cartoon. The cat, Sylvester, in the cartoon tries to eat Tweety Bird, but obstacles always prevent him. Sylvester the cat is always on the losing side, just like Mrs Sylvester who still works for Raymie's dad. Like a good fairy godmother, Mrs. Sylvester not only comforts and feeds but it is she who suggests Raymie read to residents at a nursing home to fulfill the good deed requirement on the contest application.

Fairy tale references are scattered like dust throughout the story, not to mention the style with its short, terse chapters and lack of background detail. Fairy tales jump right into the story and that's exactly how this starts making the reader puzzle out the beginning. Louisiana refers to the contest money, "...There's one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars to win. ...That's a king's ransom."And when she tells Raymie her secret about Archie she begins, "Once upon a time..." Raymie thinks Isabelle looks like a "fairy godmother" and describes Alice Nebbly's scream as sounding like a troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Louisiana thinks Ida Nee looks like a sleeping princess in a fairy tale. She reads Florence Nightingale by slamming the book shut and opening it anywhere. She makes up her own stories. The girls can write their own ending. She calls the lantern a "magic globe" like a fairy tale. Raymie ponders wishes in fairy tales and how they don't turn out right. "Wishes were dangerous things" and she thinks Beverly is smart to not wish. Beverly doesn't want to get her hopes up only to be let down later.

Motifs from Hans Christian Andersen's, "The Nightingale," are throughout the story as well. The fairy tale is about a nightingale that sings in an amazing voice for an emperor but is replaced by an automaton. When the mechanical bird breaks the emperor becomes deathly ill. So ill, that Death stands in his room. The nightingale returns and sings of hope and trust driving Death away. All the girls are filled with joy when they hear the janitor's bird sing just like anyone that hears the nightingale in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. Louisiana is determined to free the janitor's bird because it is trapped in a cage and she wants it to be free. The symbolism of cages as a form of oppression whether they are self-made or imposed by an outside force is common in literature and here it adds depth to the characters predicament. Much of the story is about rescuing people. Just like Florence Nightingale rescued wounded soldiers, Louisiana rescues animals, Beverly rescues Alice, and Raymie rescues Louisiana, and their friendship saves all three.

Louisiana makes up words and stories. In Jack Zipes, "The Irresistible Fairy Tale," he explores the history of fairy tales and how they created an alternate world for the common people. A world where a person living in poverty could become a king through magic and wit. They would rule with justice and find happiness in life. Louisiana lives in an alternate world where she makes up stories as a way of dealing with her constant hunger. When she changes Raymie's last name to "Nightingale," she is implying that she can shine a light. Louisiana is always positive and adds humor to the story. The only time she loses it is when Beverly is being hit by Ida Nee with a baton and she can't rescue her cat who she feels she betrayed. Louisiana is like the nightingale bird. She has an incredible singing voice that stuns Beverly and Raymie when they first hear it. They tell her to skip the baton and sing in the contest. Not only does Louisiana sing of hope and trust like the Nightingale did to the emperor she wins the contest and has driven off Hunger or Death.

Ida Nee is described as a mermaid, mirroring the Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," who gives up her identity to be with a prince. But the prince rejects the mermaid and she is abandoned. Ida Nee doesn't seem to know her identity in the world as she keeps trophies with other people's names on them and is a nasty person. She wanted to be a champion baton-twirler, but lost out to Beverly's mom. She keeps trophie's in her house, she even has the championship one that Beverly's mom won. Ida Nee (reminds me of Ida Lee Nagger from the TV show, Hee-Haw) lives in the past and cares more about her baton than people.

Ida Nee supposedly teaches the girls three lessons, only she never teaches them. She walked away when Louisiana fainted calling it "nonsense", hit Beverly on the head with her baton for chewing gum, and slept through the last lesson. Again, in fairy tales the stories often have three lessons or trials that the character has to go through before justice is served or the curse broken. In this case, Beverly serves justice by breaking into Ida Nee's home and stealing her baton. She's getting back at Ida Nee for her abuse. The baton is accidentally left at Mrs. Sylvester's office and the end shows Ida Nee at the contest holding it and glaring at the girls. She obviously got it back and has not changed while Beverly seems to have put her mistreatment behind her in wake of her new friendship.

The theme and imagery of abandonment is well crafted. Louisiana tells Rayme about her guilt over getting rid of her cat. She uses the word, "betrayal" that Raymie ponders and repeats over and over in her head. She feels betrayed by her dad that abandoned her. Just like Raymie, the old people are presented as invisible and abandoned in the nursing home. Louisiana's grandma is so short Raymie thinks that she looks invisible. Isabelle in the nursing home is confined to a wheel chair and cannot move any more. She is angry and tells Raymie it is important to keep moving. She asks her to push her wheelchair faster and faster. Isabelle has no voice and can't get the music changed that the janitor plays at the nursing home - she has Raymie write a complaint letter, but nothing changes. She's invisible.

Abandonment is compared to hunger. The lake is described as hungry, angry, ominous, glittering, murky. A woman drown herself in the lake during the Civil War because she thought her husband had been killed or abandoned her by dying. He showed up the day after she killed herself and Raymie wonders how long does a person have to wait and when should he or she stop? She is dealing with her dad leaving and contemplating how long she should hope for him to come back. By the end it seems she's decided to move on, especially after the silent phone call.

Characters don't tell but show. When Raymie tells Beverly that her father left, Beverly violently beats her baton into the ground. Raymie doesn't know that the same thing happened to Beverly. Beverly's mother seems to live in the past and doesn't know how to discipline her daughter. She has a tug-of-war with her daughter over her baton, punches her when she steals, and wonders aloud why she has to do everything. She's still angry about her husband leaving her and discouraged by a dead end job. Abandonment can cripple the soul - another motif. Raymie discusses her feelings as "her soul" either expands in joy or disappears becoming invisible. Mrs. Borkowski tells Raymie that most people waste their souls and most of the adults in this story fit into that category. She tells Raymie about an evil seabird that suggests bad things happen to people. That's life. Deal with it. But she also tells her if she is in a deep dark hole and looks up at the sky she can see stars in the middle of the day. She's telling her to not lose hope.

The pain of abandonment on the characters is shown through divorce, death, or not saying "goodbye." Raymie makes a point of noticing that her swim teacher said goodbye but her dad didn't. She feels betrayed by him. As she repeats the word over and over she applies it to different people and situations. Beverly leaves baton-twirling lessons and says she'll never see Raymie again. Raymie thinks, "For some reason, these words felt like a punch to the stomach. They felt like someone sneaking down a hallway in the middle of the night carrying their shoes in their hand - leaving without saying good-bye." Raymie's dad left without saying goodbye. In contrast, Raymie's Lifesaving coach from the previous summer, Mr. Staphopolous, doesn't ask questions that have no answers but is a problem solver. He did say goodbye to her when he moved away. Raymie thinks of him throughout by "flexing her toes" and "making a plan." She's trying to solve this problem of feeling abandoned.

Raymie sees Mrs. Borkowski return the Louisiana's cat in a dream where the hallway looked like a "Bright and shining path" from the Florence Nightingale book. Or is it a dream? Instead the fairy tale element truly comes to fruition as Louisiana says she was lost and now found by her cat. Hope replaces abandonment through friendship and love. Beverly decides not to sabotage the contest showing how their friendship has changed her and Raymie. Up to this point all Beverly has wanted to do is "Get the heck out of Dodge," a phrase from the TV western, Gunsmoke. When Louisiana sings, "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," from the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid another romanticized tale about robbers and criminals that die in a shoot-out, the threesomes escapades as they flee authoritative figures and the confines of society, adds excitement. Granny drives a broken station wagon with a door that won't close as the group flees baton-twirling lessons like a bunch of gangsters on the lam. Louisiana and Granny turn it into a fairy tale when they are fleeing saying "Marsha Jean is the ghost of what's to come" driving fast and not stopping at any signs or lights. Later when Granny steals food from the funeral table the image of robbers from the wild west takes on a different meaning. Granny asks Raymie and Beverly to protect Louisiana. She knows that she is old and won't always be there. The three girls bond of friendship deepens with each adventure.

Ironically, Raymie gets her picture in the paper that makes her dad call the hospital. Neither of them talk and it shows the father's complete abandonment and how Raymie can't make him come home. Instead she must choose what she wants to do with her life. She wonders why does the world exist and as she is rescuing Louisiana, she seems to realize that she is strong and needs to make sense of her place in it regardless of whether or not her father is a part of it.

At the Very Friendly Animal Shelter, Louisiana rescues a dog that has been so abused the girls are not sure if it is a dog or cat. Yet it still wags its tail at the girls showing that even animals have hope to be loved and treated well. Louisiana names it Bunny because bunny's bring good luck. I used to carry around a rabbit's foot when I was growing up in the 70's. Another clever twist by the author. Louisiana  also wears bunny barrettes because she says they bring her luck. Raymie sees the barrettes when she dives into Swip Pond as Louisiana sinks and they are one reason her life is saved. The swans are by the pond as well, like in a fairy tale. Kate DeCamillo has created an original fairy tale that has so many layers and meanings that I can't write about it all. Although I seem to be trying. Don't miss this winner!

5 Smileys