Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is from the back cover:

Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.

Inspired by this own experiences growing up, award winning author Sherman Alexie chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.

This book is about stepping out of your comfort zone in order to achieve your dreams. It's about going against popular opinion and taking control of one's destiny. Junior is the first to leave his reservation. An extremely bright and intelligent student, Junior is frustrated by the current education he receives on his rez. After all, he discovers he is studying from the same text books which his mother once studied from. So, in one witty (yet courageous) moment, Junior decides to seek better education outside of of his rez, or in the "white-world."

His reservation doesn't take this decision lightly. He is chastised and criticized for being a traitor. He even loses his best friend, Rowdy. In hindsight, Junior feels he doesn't fit in anywhere; he no longer fits in on the rez and, at first, he isn't accepted by his new white friends either. This book touches on controversial topics such as racism, sexual connotations, alcoholism, poverty, and death. It also emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and family. There is some language and sexual references, but overall, this book is fantastic! I really enjoyed Alexie's writing style and found this novel to be comical. This is the second time I have read it. I would recommend it to high school students or "mature" middle graders because of the sexual connotations.

Lingering Thoughts:
There were so many important life lessons in this book. One of the most touching moments in the novel to me was when Junior's coach is trying to convince Junior that he can take on his former basketball team.
"I can do it," Junior said to his Coach, his teammates, to the world.
"You can do it," Coach said.
"I can do it."
"You can do it."
"I can do it."
"[Junior is thinking] Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they are put together."

I really enjoyed that Alexie chose to portray the image of supportive parents, because so many young adolescent novels do not. I believe students will enjoy the drawings through out the novel. I believe they really add character to the novel and to Junior. Here is an example you would find:

Check out the author's website here!

You can buy the book or take a peak at the first few pages here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright

This is from the back cover:

They died in each other's arms. But their secret-the letters-did not die with them. True love keeps no secrets.

Jack and Laurel have been married for 39 years. They've lived a good life and appear to have had the perfect marriage. With his wife cradled in his arms, and before Jack takes his final breath, he scribbles his last "Wednesday Letter."

When their adult children arrive to arrange the funeral, they discover boxes and boxes full of love letters that their father wrote to their mother each week on Wednesday. As they begin to open and read the letters, the children uncover the shocking truth about their past.

In addition, each one must deal with present-day challenges. Matthew has a troubled marriage, Samantha is a single mother, and Malcolm is the black sheep of the family who has returned home after a mysterious two-year absence.

The Wednesday Letters has a powerful message about forgiveness and quietly beckons for readers to start writing their own "Wednesday Letters."

This is a feel good novel about miracles. Jack and Laurel's love--miracle. The forgiveness and compassion they have shown others--miracle. The transition the lives of their children will take--miracles. The Cooper's all too seemingly perfect marriage had been given the ultimate test. They survived the effects of this secret by prayer and their faith. Although this book does speak on Christian topics, the reader won't be turned off for that reason. It's an inspiring story of ultimate love and sacrifice. There is an epilogue at the end of the novel, so the reader isn't left wondering what happened next to the Coopers. You will have the entire story, and you will be left wanting to write your own Letters. After all, "History not recorded, is history lost." (I can't remember who said that, but it's true.) Can you imagine how Jack and Laurel's children came to treasure those letters? Priceless.

Lingering Thoughts:
Wow, what power there is in one tiny, little word: forgiveness. It's something you always want to receive, but have such a difficult time giving to others. I don't know how Laural/Jack did it? It also hints at other emotional topics, such as infertility (which we all know is near and dear to my heart), drinking/driving, running from your past, new beginnings, abortion, and so on. This is a great book. It's completely safe for most adolescent age groups to read.

Check out the author's website here. Wright is also doing a give-away for more of his titles, so be sure to register!

You can buy the book here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick

This is taken strictly from the back cover of the novel:

It is 1915, a few months after the start of World War I. Seventeen-year-old Sasha is a sheltered English girl. Just as her brother, Thomas, longs to be a doctor, Sasha wants to be a nurse. As the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the wards confirms what Sasha has suspected. She has a terrible gift: she can see the future. And as with Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, no one believes her. Sasha's premonitions show her the horrors on the battlefields of the Somme and the faces of the soldiers who will die. One of them is here brother.

In this riveting story, Sasha risks her own life as she races to find Thomas and--somehow--prevent his death.

Marcus Sedgwick has been hailed as "one of the UK's brightest of the most compelling storytellers around" (The Bookseller), and this haunting study of fate and free will is his most powerful novel yet.

ISBN # 978-0-553-48785-5
Published Laurel-Leaf, 2008
291 pages

This novel is broken into two parts. One thing that was really interesting to me was that it begins with Chapter 101 and counts backwards. As the suspense in the novel builds, the way Sedwick chooses to number the chapters is almost a countdown, or ticking time bomb, to the impending tragedies that Sasha sees before anyone else. Hence, the reason Sasha views this gift more-so a curse. She is so determined to use this ability to save the life of her beloved brother, but can she? The ending really caught me by surprise, so I won't ruin it for you. I thought this was a great book overall.

Lingering Thoughts:
I have tried to put myself inside of Sasha's shoes and imagine what life would be like if no one believed me. I feel as if her "gift" scared the people who loved her-people are, after all, scared of the unknown. Since I personally have a fear of death, I could understand the reactions of her parents. What I can't imagine is being her, or having absolutely no one to confide in. On one hand, I'm not so sure I believe in premonitions; on the other, just because it has never happened to me doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist. I could somewhat relate this book to movies such as Final Destination or The Sixth Sense. If you enjoyed these movies and are interested in historical fiction, you will love this book. Great read, although a bit gory at times in the descriptions of war injuries.

You can take a peak inside of the book and/or buy the novel here.

You can visit the author's website here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

This is taken strictly from the back cover of the novel:

From award-winning author Julia Alvarez comes the story of Anita de la Torre, a twelve-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic in 1960. Most of Anita's relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tio Toni has disappeared, Papi has been getting mysterious phone calls about butterflies and someone named Mr. Smith, and the secret police have started terrorizing the family for their suspected opposition to the country's dictator. While Anita deals with a frightening series of events, she also struggles with her adolescences and her own personal flight to be free.

ISBN # 978-0-440-23784-6
Published by Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2004
167 pages

Anita lives with her extended family inside of a compound in the Dominican Republic. It is only after many of her relatives begin to flee to the United States that Anita realizes her family is involved in the resistance of Trujillo, El Jefe. As Anita's immediate family stays behind to maintain the family's business, Anita begins listening in on secret meetings to ajusticiamento, which means "bringing to justice" the death of the dictator.

My Review:
Of all of the young adolescent literature I have read so far, this novel seems to be one of the safest to use in a classroom setting. It hints to assassination, but does not disclose any gory details. There are brief, subtle moments where torture techniques and under-age drinking are mentioned.

The story really picked up for me when we are allowed to read some of Anita's diary entries. A part of me felt terrible for invading her privacy, but I soon realize that Anita is afraid for her life. She is writing to leave something "behind." I could connect this book to The Dairy of Anne Frank since both novels recount details of the young girls' living conditions. Overall, I would say this novel ends with a message of hope. I really enjoyed the Conversation with Julia Alvarez and Author's Note at the end of the novel.

Lingering Thoughts:
My husband and I vacationed in the Dominican Republic in 2007. I feel so ignorant to the history of this nation. This novel left me feeling as if I am another spoiled American, who takes things such as "free government" for granted.

You can buy the novel here.

You can visit the author's website here.