Category: Coming of Age

Jan 14

Please Sir, I Want Some More. (Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)

Classics, Coming of Age 32

Hello my lovely Bookworms,

I just finished reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. After having my heart broken watching Les Miserables and recalling what an awesome character Gavroche was, I had a hankering for some street urchin that only Dickens could cure. I know some of you are thinking, “Ewww classics…” True, Dickens isn’t a fan of brevity. Clear concise prose is over-rated! Why use a single word when you can use 20? His sentences meander like the streets of London. Get into the spirit, y’all!

oliver twist

Please sir, I want some more.

Poor Oliver Twist! His mother dies in childbirth and he’s left to be reared in a workhouse. Ah yes. What’s a workhouse? Well. Governments have been trying to figure out what to do about poor people for a long time. In Dickens’s day, the solution to the problem was the workhouse. The English government figured they should feed their people, but they didn’t want them getting too comfortable being housed and fed and all, so they made the workhouses as unpleasant as possible. Families were separated into male and female dormitories. They were forced into uniforms. They were fed extremely little, and what they were fed was basically gruel. Yeah. Gruel is a thing. Also, they were forced to work to earn their room and board. Basically, it was a giant pile of suck, and Oliver was born into it.

One day young Oliver, after having the gall to ask for a second meager portion of his daily gruel, was labeled a bad seed. The parish wanted to get the ungrateful bastard out of their hair, so they decided to apprentice him out to a cruel undertaker. After having his fill of the abuse there and lashing out at his tormentor, Oliver runs away and decides to try his luck on the streets of London.

He’s quickly swept into a charismatic gang of pick pockets and hustlers. The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Bill Sykes, and Nancy make a colorful crew. Regardless of the sticky situations Oliver finds himself in, his inner goodness cannot be extinguished. From time to time, I was a little annoyed with Oliver… He can be kind of a weenie. Oliver’s story twists and turns through kidnappings and secrets and family scandals until he’s finally delivered a happy ending. Even though Oliver lacked a certain moxie, it’s hard to argue with giving the kid a happy ending.

What about you, Bookworms? Who’s read Oliver Twist? Who enjoys the Dickens? Tell me about it!

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Jan 02

The Fault In Our Stars (Is That We Haven't Enough Tissues) by John Green

Coming of Age, Family, Psychological, Romance, Tear Jerkers, Young Adult Fiction 33

Good Day My Dear Bookworms,

I typically don’t read a ton of young adult literature, but I’m beginning to branch out into the genre more and more. There’s some amazing stuff out there geared toward teens these days. After seeing this book on a crap ton of “Best  Books of 2012” lists, I decided to read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

I started reading this at 11 pm one night. I stopped reading this at 3 am that same night/morning. Why did I stop reading? Because the book was over. Quick synopsis: girl meets boy… At cancer support group meeting. Love blossoms amid oxygen tanks and prosthetic legs. They love books together and music together and fight cancer together… Even when cancer wins. So. Spoiler alert. Have like 10 boxes of tissues on hand. Seriously. I cried through 40% of this book, then I had dreams about my friends getting cancer and sleep cried. I woke up looking God-awful. Yay for vacation days! (No, I didn’t TAKE a vacation day because I looked terrible, I was already on vacation. I wouldn’t have started a book at 11 pm on a work night anyway. It’s past my bedtime, y’all!)

Star crossed teen lovers, and yet, original.

Star crossed teen lovers, and yet, original.

This was a fabulous book, but I have a couple of teeny tiny bones to pick with it. First. When I was in grade school, I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase. In the mid nineties, Lurlene McDaniel was a staple of the school book order list. All of her books were about terminally ill teenagers. Do you know what happens to a kid who reads too many novels about terminally ill teenagers? She thinks every ache and pain is a tumor. True story. You know what freaked me out even more? The fact that I was taken for head x-rays a couple of years before the McDaniel phase. It occurred to me that they were looking for brain tumors! (Turns out the headaches were sinus headaches, but I really felt like I’d dodged a bullet there.) I am slightly concerned for impressionable young minds with higher than age appropriate reading abilities having their psyches damaged by this book. Who am I kidding? I just wanted to share that story about my hypochondria and Lurlene McDaniel. Because how often do you get to type out Lurlene? Not often enough, in my opinion.

Second bone to pick! This is a legit bone. The dialogue was witty, fast paced, and used astoundingly good vocabulary. Teenagers DO NOT talk like this. Not even the exceptionally smart ones. I was in nerd classes, I was pals with some of the exceptionally smart kids. You know what they did? They drew comics about tapeworms and wrote out song lyrics on the backs of their notebooks. They were infinitely more concerned with the art of the mix tape than with the brilliance of their favorite author. True, none of them were terminally ill, but nobody banters like the kids in this book. Nobody. However, nobody realistically banters like the characters on Gilmore Girls did, but that didn’t stop me from loving them like crazy!

If you plan to read this, have tissues on hand.

If you plan to read this, have tissues on hand.

This was truly a great read. If you are in need of a tear jerker, skip the Lifetime Original Movie and dig into this book. The dialogue, while unrealistic, is charming as heck. You’ll get attached to Hazel and Augustus and Isaac. It’s a delight. A heart-wrenching, tear-jerking delight. Read it!

Maybe it’s a girl thing, but tear jerkers… Why are they so wonderful? What about you, bookworms? Do you enjoy the occasional tear jerker, or do you hate them? Tell me about it. Let’s all gather around the box of kleenex and have us a good share session.

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Nov 30

Blogstalker Book Club: The Casual Vacancy

Blogging, Book Club, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 38

Hello you Blogstalking Bookworms! Thank you to everyone who clicked on over here from Lauren at Filing Jointly… Finally. It is TIME. Time to discuss J.K. Rowling’s new book (for grown-ups!) The Casual Vacancy. You remember the drill right? I’m going to throw some discussion questions out in bold so we can be all official and such. I must admit there was a small (okay maybe significant) part of me that was hoping this would turn into Harry Potter: The Adult Years, but alas, it was not meant to be. Did anybody else harbor this same secret wish? Gratuitous photo time:

That’s me at the real Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station, London circa 2004. They put up a sign for the muggles to pose for photos. I may or may not have annoyed the local commuters. Tourists for Harry Potter!

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to mention that I made a conscious effort to separate my expectations from Harry Potter. Everyone deserves a chance to re-invent themselves, even bazillionaire authors who have brought joy to millions. I’m a little bit of an anglophile. I love the accents, I love the history, I love the chic lit (Bridget Jones is my Everywoman.) The fact that The Casual Vacancy was a slice of English life was right up my alley. Why does everything sound better British? Examples of my delight displayed in The Casual Vacancy:

1. “Dessert” is referred to on more than one occasion as “pudding.” (You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!)

2. “Busing tables” is referred to as “mopping tables.” It actually makes more sense because part of busing tables is wiping them down, like you would with a MOP on a FLOOR.

3. “People Carrier” means Mini Van! How cute is that?! It makes me think of the People Mover at Disney World, which is all kinds of wonderful when your feet hurt from traipsing around the park (or maniacally chasing the characters) all day.

The Casual Vacancy begins with the tragic death of Barry Fairbrother. Barry was an all around good dude. He came from humble beginnings to become a local politician and family man. He coached the high school girl’s rowing team and championed the underprivileged (even at the expense of his relationship with his wife, seeing as he spent their last anniversary writing a puff piece for the newspaper on a local girl from his old neighborhood.) As he and his wife walk from their car to the restaurant where they’ll be having dinner, Barry suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, right there in the “car park.” (Sounds so much more sophisticated than “parking lot” right?!)

Barry’s death sends shock waves through the community. His friends and allies are devastated, while his former enemies on the town council begin plotting how best to replace Barry to advance their cause. What exactly is the cause that’s dividing up the little hamlet of Pagford?

There is a little strip of land under Pagford’s jurisdiction known as The Fields. The Fields is home to a housing project. It houses a pretty rough crowd, as housing projects are wont to do. Crack whores, drug pushers, theft rings, negligent parents- all sorts of unsavory characters make their homes in The Fields. The old guard of Pagford wants nothing to do with it. Like any place though, The Fields aren’t entirely bad. Barry Fairbrother was a heck of a guy and he came from The Fields. Thus, the division.

The town council is divided pretty much 50/50 on The Fields, but with Barry’s death, Howard Mollison intends to install his son Miles in the vacant councilor’s seat to finally rid Pagford of The Fields. Barry’s old allies catch wind of Howard’s plans and seek to find an electable alternative to keep the balance of power in check. After all, the people of The Fields benefit from Pagford’s school system- who knows how many Barry Fairbrothers could be growing up in squalor only to become contributing members of society, right?

While all this political maneuvering is going on, the families of the “upstanding” town of Pagford are floundering. There is a veritable teen rebellion that takes place anonymously online under the guise of “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.” The children turn on their parents. In the case of Simon Price, that’s pretty well justified. He’s an abusive jerk who only wants to win the council seat to facilitate his dealings in illegal goods. Andrew sees the anonymous post as the only way to prevent his father from causing even more trouble. Seriously, how much did all of you want to punch Simon?

Parminder Jawanda is already on the town council, but having been one of Barry’s closest allies, she’s a target of derision. She isn’t rotten to the core, but she has a strained relationship with her bullied self-harming daughter Sukhvinder and the poor girl lashes out. Sukhvinder and her mom have issues because unlike the other two Jawanda children, Sukhvinder is awkward and a middling student. I don’t think Parminder is a terrible mother, but she certainly doesn’t realize what an effect her indifference has on her daughter. How did you feel about Parminder? Do you think I’m cutting her too much slack?

Poor Colin Walls feels the need to run for office to honor his good friend Barry. Colin suffers from OCD with bad thoughts. He’s mentally ill and completely terrified that he’ll accidentally molest a child. It sounds weird, but this disorder was covered on one of those therapy shows. It’s a thing (you know, because TV can’t lie. But for real, I’m pretty sure this disorder is legit.) Colin’s son is a complete jerk. Stuart “Fats” Walls has CLEARLY read The Fountainhead too many times. (Irony alert! “Fats” isn’t fat.) He is the epitome of teen douchebaggery. He’s a bully not only to his peers (especially Sukhvinder!), but to Colin as well. How much did you want to punch Fats?!

This image was borrowed from HERE. Please give all credit and all clicks to them!

The undisputed queen of this epic tale of class warfare and dysfunctional families is one Krystal Weedon. She is such a tragic figure. Krystal grew up in The Fields. To say she’s rough around the edges is an understatement. Her mother is a heroin addict. She’s been exposed to rapists and drug dealers and her screwed up 16 year old psyche is the most stable influence in her 3 year old brother’s life. The only “out” she can see for herself is to get pregnant so she can get her own government issue apartment and benefits. She plans to use this opportunity to take her brother out from under the influence of their hot mess of a mother. Krystal serves as the embodiment of The Fields, and is a lightening rod on both sides of the Pagford debate. To some, she’s the underdog who has potential to rise above her circumstances. To others, she’s the loose cannon who punched the teeth out of one of the Mollison girls. How did you feel about Krystal? Sinner? Saint? Or something in between?

There is just SO MUCH going on in this book. When I first started reading I actually thought JK Rowling might be rebelling a little bit from her wholesome image because there were a lot of teen boy erections going on. That really has nothing to do with anything, it’s just an observation. Seriously though, this book is chock full of controversy. I think Rowling does a good job of portraying both sides of the class warfare argument. Everyone wants to help the needy, but nobody wants to live next door to the crack house, you know? Even the Walls family, who are pro-Fields freak out when they find out Fats has been boinking Krystal.

For a small town, this book has a huge cast of characters. The bits I’ve discussed really only scratch the surface. I mean, what about Howard and his tawdry affair? Samantha and her cougar crush on the boy band? Gavin and his stunted relationship capability? Kay, the overworked social worker with self esteem issues? Ruth and her refusal to leave Simon despite the fact that he occasionally beats up her and the children? Gaia’s teen angst? Mary and her grief? Miles and his weird dependence on his parents? And what exactly made Vikram Jawanda so dreamy? Who was your favorite character? Whose baggage do you most relate to?

I really enjoyed this book. I liked that it portrayed people as they ACTUALLY are- flawed with bits of good and bad floating around together. There often weren’t clear heroes and villains (okay, Simon was clearly a villain but even evil Fats showed some redemptive qualities at the bitter end.) I LOVED the sheer British-ness of it all! Overall, I’ve got to hand it to Rowling. Is it Harry Potter? Heck no. Is it good anyway? Absolutely. Well done, Ms. Rowling! What were your opinions on this book? Did you love it? Hate it? Tell us about it!

Thanks for participating in this month’s Blogstalker Book Club! Lauren and I discussed choosing a lighter book (as in, something that isn’t crushingly depressing) for December. We’ve decided to tackle Rachel Dratch’s memoir Girl Walks Into A Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. Join us?

Rachel Dratch thinks Blogstalker Book Club is the COOLEST!

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Nov 28

Song of Achilles: Yes, There’s a Centaur!

Coming of Age, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Mythology, Supernatural 35

Hello Bookworms! I just finished reading Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You know that tendon in your heel? Yeah. It’s called the Achilles tendon because according to Greek legend the hero Achilles was untouchable in battle because his goddess mother dipped him into some magic water as a baby and he was this protected. The flaw in the plan was that she didn’t go for full submersion, and held his heels out of the water while she dipped him. Thus the heels were vulnerable and he is finally killed during the Trojan War (not that this is the scenario presented in this book, I’m just filling you in on some medical knowledge.)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I go any further, I’ll just come right out and say that this book is basically a love story between two dudes. If you have a problem with homosexuality, I respectfully request that you not read the rest of this blog and that you refrain from posting any nastiness in the comment section. Here’s your get out of jail free card. If you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, don’t read this book. Or my review. Hate speech will not be tolerated.

You’re still here? Good! Okay so I had a very basic knowledge of the goings on of the Trojan War and I know enough mythological trivia pull out a win if multiple choice is involved. What I didn’t know much of was Achilles’ particular story. Oh what a journey it was! Achilles is the son of a pious king and a sea nymph. Greek mythology is pretty crazy, and according to this account, the pious king Peleus was essentially told to rape the sea nymph Thetis. What a great way to start a marriage! Only NOT AT ALL. Peleus wondered why she hated him. Sigh.

The union of Peleus and Thetis obviously resulted in Achilles. Achilles was a golden boy. He was a super badass warrior without even trying. Enter Patroclus. Patroclus was born a prince, but due to an accident involving a shove and a nobleman’s son’s skull taking an unfortunate bash on a rock, Patroclus was banished from his kingdom. Apparently this was a pretty common practice at the time, because when he’s sent to foster at Achilles’ crib there’s a whole dorm full of ne’er do well princes. Achilles barely notices the other boys, but he notices Patroclus. He chooses Patroclus as his companion and they become total BFFs.

As the years go by and puberty hits, the predictable occurs. You know, you go live on a mountain to be trained by a centaur and THINGS HAPPEN. Not with the centaur. With your BFF. Patroclus and Achilles fall in love. Like for reals love, not politician in a bathroom love. Patroclus chases Achilles down when Thetis hides him in a far off kingdom dressed as a lady. (And she has the gall to be grouchy that he’s in love with a guy. Seriously, Thetis, get enlightened!)

They go off to fight the Trojan War (because you know, Helen and her thousand-ship-launching face.) The Trojan War is frickin long. Daily hand to hand combat for more than 10 years! It’s a good thing Achilles is part god. He barely breaks a sweat. Patroclus is more a lover than a fighter, so he mostly hangs out in the medical tent doling out centaur approved healing techniques. Patroclus and Achilles actually have a pretty nice little war. They get to live as a couple and have some great times. The war is sort of a 9-5 gig. But they know their days are numbered. Yep. Prophesy. The fates never could keep their mouths shut.

I can’t quit you!

It’s no surprise that Achilles dies. I mean, the heel thing! Everybody knows that. But Patroclus? He goes first and it’s HEARTBREAKING. It’s like Brokeback Mountain but the Greeks were a lot cooler about gay people. It was pretty common for boys to have homosexual affairs, actually. It was a little on the unusual side for Achilles and Patroclus to have kept their relationship going into adulthood, but since Achilles could kick anyone’s ass, they didn’t get too much crap from their army buds. Then they go and die and break your heart into a million pieces. That’s alright though- as we’ve discussed, the literary cry is the “pretty” cry.

The bottom line? This book was wonderful! The love story was beautiful, it tugged at all of my heartstrings (there are many of them. My heart is like a harp.) Greek mythology is so colorful and interesting. They knew how to tell a story. And so does Madeline Miller.

I simply must know, Bookworms. How much would you FREAK OUT if you got to live on a mountain with a centaur? He’d teach you to play the lyre!

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Nov 28

Song of Achilles: Yes, There's a Centaur!

Coming of Age, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Mythology, Supernatural 35

Hello Bookworms! I just finished reading Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You know that tendon in your heel? Yeah. It’s called the Achilles tendon because according to Greek legend the hero Achilles was untouchable in battle because his goddess mother dipped him into some magic water as a baby and he was this protected. The flaw in the plan was that she didn’t go for full submersion, and held his heels out of the water while she dipped him. Thus the heels were vulnerable and he is finally killed during the Trojan War (not that this is the scenario presented in this book, I’m just filling you in on some medical knowledge.)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I go any further, I’ll just come right out and say that this book is basically a love story between two dudes. If you have a problem with homosexuality, I respectfully request that you not read the rest of this blog and that you refrain from posting any nastiness in the comment section. Here’s your get out of jail free card. If you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, don’t read this book. Or my review. Hate speech will not be tolerated.

You’re still here? Good! Okay so I had a very basic knowledge of the goings on of the Trojan War and I know enough mythological trivia pull out a win if multiple choice is involved. What I didn’t know much of was Achilles’ particular story. Oh what a journey it was! Achilles is the son of a pious king and a sea nymph. Greek mythology is pretty crazy, and according to this account, the pious king Peleus was essentially told to rape the sea nymph Thetis. What a great way to start a marriage! Only NOT AT ALL. Peleus wondered why she hated him. Sigh.

The union of Peleus and Thetis obviously resulted in Achilles. Achilles was a golden boy. He was a super badass warrior without even trying. Enter Patroclus. Patroclus was born a prince, but due to an accident involving a shove and a nobleman’s son’s skull taking an unfortunate bash on a rock, Patroclus was banished from his kingdom. Apparently this was a pretty common practice at the time, because when he’s sent to foster at Achilles’ crib there’s a whole dorm full of ne’er do well princes. Achilles barely notices the other boys, but he notices Patroclus. He chooses Patroclus as his companion and they become total BFFs.

As the years go by and puberty hits, the predictable occurs. You know, you go live on a mountain to be trained by a centaur and THINGS HAPPEN. Not with the centaur. With your BFF. Patroclus and Achilles fall in love. Like for reals love, not politician in a bathroom love. Patroclus chases Achilles down when Thetis hides him in a far off kingdom dressed as a lady. (And she has the gall to be grouchy that he’s in love with a guy. Seriously, Thetis, get enlightened!)

They go off to fight the Trojan War (because you know, Helen and her thousand-ship-launching face.) The Trojan War is frickin long. Daily hand to hand combat for more than 10 years! It’s a good thing Achilles is part god. He barely breaks a sweat. Patroclus is more a lover than a fighter, so he mostly hangs out in the medical tent doling out centaur approved healing techniques. Patroclus and Achilles actually have a pretty nice little war. They get to live as a couple and have some great times. The war is sort of a 9-5 gig. But they know their days are numbered. Yep. Prophesy. The fates never could keep their mouths shut.

I can’t quit you!

It’s no surprise that Achilles dies. I mean, the heel thing! Everybody knows that. But Patroclus? He goes first and it’s HEARTBREAKING. It’s like Brokeback Mountain but the Greeks were a lot cooler about gay people. It was pretty common for boys to have homosexual affairs, actually. It was a little on the unusual side for Achilles and Patroclus to have kept their relationship going into adulthood, but since Achilles could kick anyone’s ass, they didn’t get too much crap from their army buds. Then they go and die and break your heart into a million pieces. That’s alright though- as we’ve discussed, the literary cry is the “pretty” cry.

The bottom line? This book was wonderful! The love story was beautiful, it tugged at all of my heartstrings (there are many of them. My heart is like a harp.) Greek mythology is so colorful and interesting. They knew how to tell a story. And so does Madeline Miller.

I simply must know, Bookworms. How much would you FREAK OUT if you got to live on a mountain with a centaur? He’d teach you to play the lyre!

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Nov 26

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Good Read, A Dignified Cry

Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Supernatural, World War II 37

I’m baaaaaaaaack! I hope all of my fellow American bookworms have come out of their food comas! I know I’m still struggling. A 4-day-weekend is a glorious thing, but I want a weekend to recover from my weekend. Can we make that happen? Ah, well. I knew it was a long shot.

In the few months I’ve been wandering aimlessly about the blogosphere, I’ve been hearing about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In fact, I was told that I absolutely HAD to read it so often that I entered a contest to win the book for free. Lo and behold, my craptastic gambling luck abandoned me just long enough so that I could WIN. Many thanks to Jessica of The Bluestocking Society for running the contest!

In case you, like me, have been living in a literary cave… The Book Thief is about a young German girl who is essentially orphaned and lives with a foster family during World War II. Delightful plot quirk: the entire story is narrated by Death. You know, Death. As in, the Grim Reaper (although Death is amused and annoyed by the inaccuracies of humanity’s interpretations of his likeness.) I realize as I write this that I’m using a masculine pronoun to describe a genderless being, and my inner feminist is protesting. Whatever, Inner Feminist, “Death” in my head is a dude, okay? Gosh. Where were we? (Important Note! My Inner Feminist is NOTHING like Ana Steel’s “Inner Goddess” in 50 Shades of Grey. In fact, my Inner Feminist wants to beat the crap out of Steele’s “Inner Goddess.” Cage Match?)

Our protagonist, Liesel, grows up living a nomadic life. Though she doesn’t understand why, her father has disappeared and her poverty stricken mother moves Liesel and her brother around constantly. Though Liesel is 9, she’s never attended school properly and thus cannot even read. It’s revealed that Liesel’s father (at least, perhaps her mother too) was a Communist (or accused Communist… the truth of things never seems to matter much to totalitarian regimes.) Being an open Communist in Nazi Germany is a one way ticket to persecution, and probably death. Liesel’s mother is concerned for the welfare of her children so she travels to Munich to give up custody. Tragically, Liesel’s 6 year old brother doesn’t survive the journey, and his death fuels her desire to learn to read. This is the first time Death encounters Liesel. (Seriously though, Liesel’s Communist parents weren’t exactly picking between Club Med and Sandals. Escaping the Nazis to join the Communists? Stalin was damn near as murderous as Hitler, he was just quieter about the genocide. Humanity. What a mess.)

Excellent cover art! Death and Liesel are dancing!

Once Liesel is established in her foster family, the war begins to escalate. For young German children, that means school and compulsory participation in the Hitler Youth program. Even though Liesel and her foster family’s hearts are NOT into the Nazi party ideology, they have very little choice other than to do what is expected of them. German people who didn’t participate as expected were treated with suspicion at best- dissenters didn’t have a long life expectancy. Which is why the plot thickens so heavily when Liesel’s family takes in and hides a Jew. Max is the son of Liesel’s foster father’s WWI army buddy (seriously, what a CRAPPY time to be alive to deal with BOTH World Wars.)

In a lot of respects, The Book Thief reminded me of Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (which is amazing and you should totally read it if you liked The Book Thief.) War is a big fat steaming pile of suck. Poor Death is worked to… well, death… with all the warfare and chaos and genocide throughout this book. Anyway, what I think is interesting about these books is that they go behind “enemy” lines. Normal German people weren’t necessarily awful people by any means. They were stuck in a crappy situation. Some of them took the incredibly brave step of hiding their Jewish friends. Some resisted in other ways by refusing to participate in party requests. Some of them stole books out of Nazi bonfires (cough cough Liesel.) Most just tried their best to keep themselves and their families alive.

When I received this book in the mail, I couldn’t wait to tackle it. Jessica was kind enough to include a short note warning me that I’d need tissues toward the end… And oh, how right she was! I’m not going to go into major spoiler territory because I’m just not feeling like it. I will tell you, however, that I cried and cried while reading the end of this book.

It sounds really stupid to say that you love when books make you cry, but I do. I mean, a book must be exceptionally well-written in order to elicit that sort of response. Plus, my literary cry is very dignified. Unlike my real life someone was mean/something tragic happened/someone died cry, my book and movie cry is quite stoic. Minimal mucus production. Classy tear stream. No hiccups and/or howler monkey sobs. It’s my “dab with a hanky” cry. And I love it.

Anybody read The Book Thief? Anybody notice a difference between their book cry and their serious emotional cry? Tell me I’m not alone here!

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Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 19

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!

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Nov 07

Don't Kill The Messenger! (Messenger by Lois Lowry)

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 5

Happy Wednesday, Bookworms!

I know what you’re thinking! “Messenger had better link up The Giver and Gathering Blue or I’m going to be one angry bookworm!” I know that’s what I was thinking. Well it wasn’t exactly that vitriolic, but I was pleased when I started this and recognized the characters.

We start off this story with Matty. Remember Matt from Gathering Blue? In Kira and Matty’s community they earn syllables to tack onto their names as they age. So Matt became Matty. Which is funny because, in traditional English naming convention, the addition of a Y actually makes the name sound YOUNGER. Like, your full name is Matthew but when you’re a little kid you’re Matty, and when you hit 8 you refuse to answer to the baby name and insist on Matt? In this society, you’d start out as Matt, go to Matty, then Matty-Saurus-Rex. You know. The usual progression.

Messenger takes a turn for the allegorical in this novel. We depart from the sci-fi realm and move a little more into fantasy territory. Remember how Kira’s dad showed up to see her in his blue shirt? And how Matty was the one who found him? We finally find out that this mysterious village that takes in the disabled is where Jonas and Gabe ended up!!! Cliffhanger resolved! Jonas and Gabe didn’t die, the lights they sledded to in the midst of that blizzard was this village.

A dude and an evil forest. Oooooh.

At the end of Gathering Blue, Matty decides to stay in the village with Kira’s dad, but he still visits Kira from time to time. He’s got a talent for traveling back and forth through the woods without having the trees turn on him and attack him Wizard of Oz style. Now the village in which the outcasts resides is pretty serene. They don’t euthanize their misfits or leave their injured in a field to die.

Unfortunately, things are starting to get a little weird in the village. The village starts having regular “Trade Marts” which is sort of like a marketplace, with a twist. There’s a weird peddler dude (who calls himself “Trademaster”) who is coming to the village and making “trades” for his goods. The uncorrupted village population soon begins trading the best parts of their personality for gaming machines and vanity items. The villagers’ temperment begins to change and they decide to close their borders. Since things are starting to get a little dicey, Kira decides it’s time to hurry up and join her father in the village before the borders close. (As you recall, Kira opted to stay in her home society to help them change for the better. It’s implied that she manages to make progress, but Lowry doesn’t go into much detail there. )

Matty goes into the angry forest to fetch Kira and bring her to the village safely. Along the journey, Matty begins to be rejected by the forest that once favored him. He gets stung by insects, tangled by vines, and attacked by underbrush. Are you ready to embrace allegory? Okay. Kira has a gift for weaving. We’ve covered that. Jonas has a gift, which is part of what made him attractive to become the Giver. His gift manifests itself by occasional psychic episodes. Matty also has a gift , of sorts.

Yeah, like I needed ANOTHER reason to avoid the great outdoors. Forest attacks? Clearly I won’t be camping… Ever.

Matty plays the sacrificial lamb. While in the forest, he sacrifices himself to whatever evil spirits are jacking things up. He restores the forest to a normal state, and his death chases the influence of the Trademaster from the village.

Now, I appreciate that this book gave me some closure to Jonas’s story. I was downright giddy that Jonas and Kira were woven into the same plot. However. I wasn’t crazy about the turn we took from relatively realistic science fiction to full on fantasy. In The Giver everything seemed to have a scientific explanation. In order to have a peaceful society, you have to take away certain aspects of humanity. No place for passion in a place where there is no fighting, no sexual competition, no need for individualism. Gathering Blue had hints of fantasy, but mainly felt like a society that had gone back in time after a cataclysm in the world we know. The animated evil forest and the Trademaster took me on a journey I wasn’t anticipating. I won’t say it was a terrible place to go, but I would have preferred sticking to the realistic feel of the first two books.

Does it bother anyone else when a book takes an unexpected turn? I’m not talking a plot twist, I’m talking a genre shift. Am I the only person who isn’t crazy about this?

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Nov 06

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: The Giver, Part 2. Only not.

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Friendship, Historical Fiction 14

Hello Again Bookworms! I bet you’re all dying to know what happened to Jonas and Gabe, aren’t you? Well… Too damn bad! This book doesn’t mention them at all!

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry is the second in The Giver series. It takes place in another dystopian society, but this one is NOTHING like the one Jonas and Gabe came from.

Our heroine is a girl named Kira. She lives during the same time period as Jonas, but in a society very different from the one we met in The Giver. Kira’s society is brutal. They lack modern conveniences and live in squalor. The society is ruled by the passionate voice of the people…No pills in to keep the masses in check. Everything that is ugly about humanity is shown in a harsh light. Kira was born with a twisted leg, which requires her to walk with a cane. In this harsh society, people who have deformities or are in any way incapable of working are abandoned in a field to die. The sick aren’t cared for- they’re sent to the field. After Kira’s mother passes away, her neighbors try to confiscate her home and send her to the field as well. An orphaned girl with a disability doesn’t have a place in this society. In an attempt to prove her worth to the society’s ruling body, Kira presents herself and her weaving to the Council of Eddifice. The Council recognizes Kira’s talent for weaving and gives her new lodging within their headquarters.

Kira is given a single task. She is set to mend the beautiful cloak that the Singer wears once a year. The Singer’s sole responsibility is to sing the story of human civilization at the annual festival. Though this book doesn’t really touch on religion, the Singer’s significance seems holy in nature. It’s the glue that binds the society together. Being put in charge of the robe is an honor and quite a responsibility for Kira, but the council tries to make it worth her while, so to speak. (Really though, it’s not like she could leave. Her only other option is to try to go home and face the angry mob that wants her in the field…)

I imagine the Singer’s cloak to look a lot like the one displayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I like musical theater. Hush.

Life in headquarters is very different than what Kira has grown up with. She’s got electricity, running water, and plentiful meals. She is no longer subject to the cruel tribal life she is used to. She meets another resident there, a boy named Thomas. Thomas is gifted in wood carving and has been given the task of carving the story of human civilization into the singer’s staff. As Kira runs low on thread, she’s introduced to an old woman who lives in the woods. The woman becomes her mentor and teaches Kira how to dye thread to make the colors she needs to continue mending the cloak. The most difficult color to come by is blue, but unfortunately there is nothing they can grow in their gardens that will produce a blue dye. (I found it interesting that Lowry chose the color blue as the missing link, because I’ve read a few historical fictions that also focus on the difficulty of cultivating blue dye. Lapis lazuli was the best source of the color, and because it is a gemstone/mineral as opposed to a plant, it was often prohibitively expensive. Just a little nugget for your brain banks.)

It’s such a pretty color! But hard to find. Yay for chemicals so we can have blue dye! (And old ladies can have blue hair. Don’t hate on the blue hair.)

As time goes by, Kira becomes more and more suspicious of her surroundings. Kira begins to hear wailing at night. When she and Thomas discover the source, they find a very small little girl named Jo, who is little more than a toddler. She is being kept there in training to take over the duties of the Singer when the time comes. Jo has a gift for singing, but is tiny and frightened. Kira and Thomas try to ease her fears, but they’re beginning to see that their new lives are rather unusual. During the ceremony that year, as Kira admires the work she’s done on the Singer’s robe, she notices that the Singer’s ankles are chained. He is a prisoner. It occurs to her that she, Thomas, and Jo are prisoners as well.

Kira has one friend from her old life, a little boy named Matt. When Kira explains her problems with the blue thread, Matt tells Kira that he’s come across a village in the woods that HAS blue. Blue cloth everywhere. When Matt returns from his mission with more than just blue cloth for Kira to use… He returns with the father she thought was dead. As it turns out, though he was left in the field to die (after being attacked by his own people, no less) and was rescued by a group of people from this mysterious village. Kira’s father offers to take her to the village in which he lives, but Kira declines (at least temporarily) to help improve the society she lives in.

Okay. So that’s a story right? I didn’t like this book as much as I liked The Giver, but it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve got a weakness for historical fiction anyway, and the way Kira’s society lived felt very much like a bygone era as opposed to a future time. I didn’t even mind the long descriptions of thread dyeing- I like to read about how things were done once upon a time. I never actually want to have to DO things the old fashioned way, but you know. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, I figure I can make a living being an herbalist and dying thread or something. I don’t know. I just like learning things. So there. I know what you’re thinking though. WHAT IN TARNATION DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH JONAS AND GABE?!?!?!

You are just going to have to wait for book 3, now aren’t you? Yep. This is the sequel that’s not a sequel at all. Have any of you read Gathering Blue? What are your thoughts on Kira’s society?

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Nov 05

My Name is Jonas: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Frightening, Psychological 21

Hello there, Bookworms!

I hope you’re all well rested after “falling back” this weekend. For those of you who don’t live in areas where Daylight Savings Time is observed, I hope you got extra sleep anyway. Sleep is wonderful.

This week I’m going to focus on The Giver by Lois Lowry. Why does one book need a whole week of attention? It doesn’t! But there are sequels! And I’ve read them all. Now you shall be subjected to my opinions on them. I know you’re excited!

The cover of this book scared me a bit as a child. Who was that? Why did the Santa look alike look so sad? Who ripped the cover? What’s going on?!

The first time I “read” The Giver was in the fifth grade. I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, the teacher read it to us a chapter at a time… Earlier this year I was craving some more dystopia (seriously, I have a problem. I only want to read about screwy alternate realities…) I decided I needed to read The Giver again since it was creeping up on 20 years since I’d heard it the first time (I’m getting old, dammit.) Number The Stars was one of my favorite books as a kid, so I figured anything Lois Lowry wrote would probably be pretty good, even from an adult perspective.

Okay, so here’s the basic premise. We’re introduced to a 12 year old boy named Jonas and we learn about his home. His community is very orderly and prescribed. There are no cars- everyone rides bicycles (how lovely for the environment!) Children work volunteer hours around town and everyone seems to be quite pleasant… It sounds pretty Thomas More Utopian, right? Then little things start to seem… wrong.

There are no animals, except the fish in the hatchery (and thanks to Kurt Cobain, we know “it’s okay to eat fish ’cause they don’t have any feelings…” What? I’ve already TOLD YOU about my grunge phase. Expect a Nirvana reference from time to time, y’all.) The children are assigned their future jobs at a special ceremony when they turn 12. Color doesn’t exist. Emotions like love seem to be non existent. Everyone is perfectly pleasant, but in being pleasant, they’re missing a lot of the best parts of being human. (This book came out way before Pleasantville was released, but I cannot help but draw comparisons. The nice but slightly off community? The lack of color? The lack of passion? The only thing The Giver is lacking is Don Knotts… May he rest in peace. He lacked the gravity to have played The Giver anyway.)

Reese Witherspoon and I share a birthday. Obviously people born on March 22 are destined for fabulousness.

Jonas is clearly different. He seems to question things a little more than his friends do. His eye “color” is light rather than dark. While his friends seem to have clear ideas of where their future careers will lie, Jonas is only confused. I has no idea what the future has in store for him, and in such an orderly society, that’s highly unusual. During their 12 year ceremony, the powers that be SKIP OVER Jonas. That’s enough to freak everyone out. Everyone assumes it was an oversight, but oversights DON’T HAPPEN in the community. Just as the 12 year ceremony is about to conclude, the council doubles back and points out Jonas. Jonas has been chosen for a special job. He’s to apprentice with the mysterious Giver. Nobody in the community seems to know exactly what the Giver does, but they know it’s an important position. Jonas is… terrified.

As it turns out, The Giver is responsible for remembering all the bits of human history that might make the community unpleasant. Every citizen of pubescent age and older is prescribed “pills.” It’s never explained what the pills do exactly, but it seems to me that they’re a mix of sexual suppression and sedative. Actually, they seem a bit like Huxley’s soma, plus the addition of the no sex thing. There is NO SEX in the community. The babies come from “birth mothers” who are kept in a secluded area. The whole idea of the birth mothers confuses me a little… Girls chosen to become birth mothers are typically picked because they show no aptitude to do anything else. They’re taken to this dormitory type area and pampered until they’ve given birth three times. They’re then released to do manual labor. But… If this community is so flipping smart, wouldn’t it be counterproductive to use the less than brilliant girls as breeding stock? I mean, genetically speaking. I suppose they could be using donor eggs (except we learn in the 4th book that they aren’t using donor eggs.) Also, where do they get the sperm since the men are all on pills to make them have no sexual desire? None of this is probably appropriate for the age group this book was written for, so I suppose I shouldn’t dwell. But, Ms. Lowry? Could you throw a girl a bone here?

Oh man I’m rambling today. The Giver! Yes. So Jonas starts his training, and The Giver starts “giving” him memories. Some of them are nice, like colors and music. Some of them are horrifying like war and death. The community doesn’t discuss death. At a certain age all citizens are “released” to a non specific “elsewhere.” Jonas eventually learns that being “released” is a euphemism for being euthanized. Yep. Once people are pass their usefulness, they’re killed. Seedy underbelly, much? As if this wasn’t enough for a 12 year old kid to take on, his father has been bringing home a child (his dad works in the nursery) who is failing to thrive. The kid, Gabe, appears soothed by Jonas. He’s also got Jonas’s strange light colored eyes as well. After Gabe has lived with the family for a while and still failed to present himself as an untroubled citizen, it’s deemed that he will be released.

Jonas, realizing what being released means is horrified. He’s begun to see all the cracks in his seemingly perfect society and the death of Gabe solidifies his resolve. Jonas decides to LEAVE. Jonas packs up Gabe and some supplies and takes off past the limits of his community. As it turns out, whatever scientific bubble the community has used to make the weather perfectly pleasant and conducive to their lifestyle doesn’t extend forever. The book ends with Gabe and Jonas on the verge of hypothermia sledding down a snowy hill during a blizzard toward some (likely hallucinatory) lights. (As an adult, all this scene makes me think of is Orson Well muttering “Rosebud!” Citizen Kane. The weasel made me watch it. You should too.)

That’s Rosebud. In a black and white movie. Full circle.

I got a whole heck of a lot MORE out of this book as an adult than I did as a 10-year-old. The biggest thing I remembered from when I was a kid was wondering how scientists managed to take color out of the world and being convinced that Jonas and Gabe died at the end. As you probably presumed from the fact that there are sequels to this story, that’s not exactly the case. This book is great. Sure, I have unanswered questions, but I think it’s a great story that really gets the brain juices flowing. If you like dystopias and you haven’t read this, you should. If you read it as a kid, you should read it as an adult. If you resent me for giving spoilers all over the place… I’m not really sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.

Have any of the bookworms out there read The Giver? What did you think? Were you even aware that there were sequels? (Because I wasn’t, until Amazon told me. I love you, Amazon!)

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