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: