Friday, November 13, 2009

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

It's sad, really, that I never read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume when I was young. Unfortunately, the stigma of it being a "banned book" equated the story with being bad. As I've gotten older and (hopefully) a bit wiser, I realize that I missed out on a beautiful story that may well have addressed some of the very concerns I had at that age.

The charming, innocent voice of Margaret makes her instantly relatable. A lot of "news" like new friends, new school, and new house greet Margaret as she embarks on one of the most frustrating and misunderstood times a girl passes through. Boys, menstruation, friends, and religion all play into the microcosm of her world. I don't know of a girl who hasn't wondered about those things as a curious eleven-year-old. It is natural, and Blume handles the delicate topics with finesse and gentleness.

I love Margaret's relationship with God, a being she didn't completely understand as far as organized religion, but who she trusted as a friend. Her hope that things would work out, even if it seemed like she would die of embarrassment at the time, struck me as the innocent faith of a child mixed with the maturing realizations of a young woman.

Reading this book, I realized I'm still curious and uncertain about different aspects of life. Though I'm long past the time of training bras and first periods, there is still a wonder and excitement about what life will bring. I hope I never lose that, but if I do, I'll have Margaret and her story to show me the way.

As a final thought, I'd like to share this:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Unfinished Angel

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

There are so few books that have touched me deeply enough that I couldn't imagine my life without having read them: The Alchemist, The Little Prince, The Graveyard Book. And now, I add to that list The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech.

The story is simple. It goes like this: an angel lives in a tower in a small village in the Swiss Alps. This angel, he isn't sure what his purpose is. "Me, I am an angel. I am supposed to be having all the words in all the languages, but I am not. Many are missing. I am also not having a special assignment. I think I did not get all the training. . . . Do the other angels know what they are doing? Am I the only confused one? Maybe I am unfinished, an unfinished angel."

This angel watches over the people of this little village, and then one day, an American family comes to live in the house attached to his tower. Zola, a young girl vibrant with life and colors—she wears three different colored skirts and numerous bright ribbons at the same time—meets angel and actually sees him. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between a vivacious girl and a grumpy angel.

Though the events of the story are ordinary, there is an uncommon grace and elegance to the prose, even with an angel narrator that cannot speak English properly and often fuses words. ("Zola smills, smuggles, what is the word? What is it, that word for happy teeth??") But more than that, the beauty of the story outshines any I have read in a long while.

Through often misguided efforts, angel watches over his town and his "peoples." By the end of the book, angel realizes he has a purpose, and we recognize the goodness that there is in the world and the hearts of the people who populate it.

"I am feeling most hopeful watching these peoples. I don't know what to say about this feeling. I don't eat food, but if I did, maybe it is as if I were hungry, so hungry, and I didn't even know it, and then I found a mountain of food and I ate and ate, and then I sat back contentful and there was still more mountain for the next day and the next day. Maybe it is like that. I don't know. Since I don't eat food, it is hard to say."

After reading this striking story, I am feeling contentful as well.

In conclusion, this mesmerizing story is one that will become a classic, and I would not be too far off in saying I see this as a strong contender for the Newbery. Every child, every adult should become friends with this unfinished angel and let him help you become more of a finished person.

P.S. I have serious issues with the book's cover design. Had I not read a review of the book previous to buying it, I would most likely have passed it over.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Dun dun duuuun.

That's really how they should have ended The Maze Runner, first book in the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. Instead they concluded with a boring "End of Book One."

Now here's the thing. The Maze Runner is a seat-of-your-pants thrill ride, but there's an undercurrent of something more sinister and overarching as the book progresses. This isn't just the story of a boy who wakes up in a ginormous maze filled with deadly monsters, and who can't remember a thing about himself or his life. It's a story of survival, community, hope, fear, and courage.

So let's start with the basics. Every thirty days a boy is brought up in a metal box to a wooded glade surrounded by a vast maze. The glade offers protection to the ragtag group of boys that live there, the walls closing every night before the Grievers—horrible monsters, part animal, part machine—come out to prey upon any boy without the maze's walls. The Gladers have survived like this for two years, sending boys out each day to map the shifting walls of the maze with the hope of finding a way out.

The day sixteen-year-old Thomas shows up, things begin to change for the boys in the glade. One day after his arrival, a girl is sent up through the box. A girl, the first ever in the glade, with a message for the Gladers: "She's the last one. Ever." Thus starts a race against the clock for the Gladers to solve the puzzle of the maze before they are all killed.

I won't say anything more about the plot for fear of giving anything away, but I will say this: the moment you start reading this story, you won't want to stop. Dashner deftly weaves mystery with suspense and terror, creating a world where nothing is permanent or safe.

As the story progresses and mysteries deepen, two questions become key: Who would do this to children? And more to the point, why?

The end of the book does bring a sense of conclusion, but even then more questions are asked. I, for one, will be eagerly anticipating the release of the second and third books in the series.

For a cinematic taste of The Maze Runner, view the book trailer here:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Possibilities of Sainthood

First up, The Possibilities of Sainthood, by Donna Freitas. It took me a couple of chapters to really get into the right headspace to enjoy this book, but basically that's pretty much true of every book these days. It's hard to turn off an editor's brain once you've switched it on. However, after I made that part of my grey matter shut up I was absolutely charmed by the main character, Antonia Lucia Labella. She made me want to spend a week or two living above an Italian pasta shop in Rhode Island, and she made me curious about all the saints (there's a patron saint of breastfeeding? Seriously?) and I'm not even close to being Catholic. Plus, it's been a really long time since obtaining my first kiss was any kind of priority, for which Antonia longs in a hilariously inwardly bold, outwardly silent kind of way.

I'm not kidding. Pick this one up, you'll be all gushy inside yourself. Definitely a Buy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dead is the New Black

Marlene Perez's Dead Is the New Black didn't win me over, and typically I'd just say this was probably better-suited as a middle grade novel, except apparently there might be FACTORS. I hate factors, but they exist anyway. In this case the factor is this: Marlene Perez writes for 'reluctant readers'. Now, I realize I am not a normal person when it comes to reading. I am a reading freak of nature. I know several others, but the general populace is not made up of readers like me. Some people would rather east a vat of spinach swimming in Tabasco sauce rather than read a book. I'm guessing that's Perez's targeted audience, which is why the book is sort of the paint-by-numbers equivilant of the countless vampire novel knock-offs out there. I didn't hate it, but it was so freakin' easy to predict every outcome I resented it for not surprising me at least a little.

So, I guess my  verdict is, if you're a 'reader' better to hold off on this one, but maybe if you have a friend or relative who isn't a reader, you can always pick up a copy and see if they bite. Uh, no pun intended.

Going with Borrow, on the merit of the FACTORS.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Remarkably Jane

Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen by Jennifer Adams.
"What is all this about Jane Austen? What is there in her? What is it all about?"—Joseph Conrad, 1901, novelist
What is it, then? I know I'm addicted to Jane's prose. There's something universal about her characters that sucks me into the story. Funny, sad, heartening, romantic, and just plain grand. I love the way she makes me believe in love and happy endings, even if she never found her own.
"Austen tells us how much we have to suffer in order to find real love and truth as well as the pain of growing up. These conflicts in one way or another determine our lives."—Ang Lee, director of 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility
Eek. I don't like suffering, but really, what is love but pain? Enough about me, though. What does the acknowledged Jane-ite have to say?
"To those of us who love Jane Austen," Adams writes, "she is like the brightness of burnished silver. Something lovely, with sparkle, that makes our world more beautiful."
Ah, now that's a lovely image. The book is full of them, as well as interesting tidbits that others have said about Jane. From writers to actors to those who adore Jane—or absolutely hate her—this book collects their thoughts on one of the great English novelists.
And hate—believe it or not—some did.
Infamous curmudgeon Mark Twain said, "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
That quote makes me wonder, though, why he read it again if he didn't like it the first time. I can understand the addiction, however, as I've fallen prey to it numerous times. For the Austen addicts among us, this is a beautiful book that captures the spirit and love of our favorite hopeless romantic.