Friday, May 28, 2010

Vote for Larry by Janet Tashjian
This is a terrific story with the potential to actually inspire teens and young adults (college students, anyway) to get out and vote! It might also inspire some gifted individuals like its characters Josh, Janine, and Beth to become candidates or political activists. This book presents issues that are inherently consequential for the Y Generation and beyond. Thru these passionate young individuals Tashjian portrays the idea of the Critical Patriot: the person who sees the flaws of the country but doesn't retreat into cynical commentary. This person actually loves this country with its flaws and is ready to work to make it better! I haven’t read the first book about ‘Larry’ which is titled The Gospel According to Larry, but now that I’ve finished this sequel, I must backtrack to read the first book about this intellectually gifted and passionately caring young man.

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Then Again Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
This is a boys’ book! Boys’ books with this realistic life theme are very rare, and so, even though it was written several years ago (1971), it might be one of the few that speaks to adolescent male issues. (It is interesting to read the mixed reviews on written by adolescent girls who read the book!) Tony deals with changes within his family, with new friends who apply peer pressure, and with his own burgeoning sexuality. I would confidently hand it to any boys when they reach fifth or sixth grade.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Indignation by Phillip Roth

Marcus Messner chooses a midwestern college based on the photo depicted on the cover of the Winesburg promotional catalog found in the Newark Library. What a typically naïve act for a teenager! If he’d had the guidance of a counselor, his story surely would have gone in a different direction.

Here’s an excerpt from the Library Journal Review:

/* Starred Review */ “In 1951, Marcus Messner flees his father's steadily debilitating dementia and the overwhelming constraints of family life in Newark, NJ, to the greener and more pastoral setting of Winesburg College in Ohio. After years of working in his father's butcher shop, where he learned to do everything well no matter how much he hated it, he steps into a Kafkaesque setting in which such a lesson is useless in the face of the demands of the college's authority figures. After encounters with arrogant and lazy roommates who won't allow him to study, confrontations with the college dean, and the heartbreak of a failed sexual affair, Marcus learns that he can best survive various challenges in his life—even the book's most surprising challenge—by acting indignantly in the face of them.”

I found Marcus’ sense of indignation completely understandable, and yet he let his emotional reactions become his undoing.

Almost twenty years after this story takes place I knew another Jewish boy who left his home to attend a conservative midwestern college... in Illinois. He was not the son of a kosher butcher, but the son of a merchant who ran a prosperous department store in a conservative Illinois town of 20,000 residents. This boy was a good friend with whom I had attended dances and parties. We both went off to Illinois State University after high school. The Viet Nam War was the backdrop for our times, much as the Korean War haunted the minds of Marcus and his classmates in this book. Changes in the military draft since the fifties meant that not every male would be sent right off to war if he was not in college. (The lottery system was such a capricious manner of determining draft status!)

After we began college, Mike and I drifted apart as we discovered a world of people who came from cities different from our little hometown. Isn’t that what most college students are seeking? Isn’t that the purpose of attending a large university or one in a distant location? At this stage of my life, I regret that I haven’t always been more willing to explore beyond my comfort zone. Those times when I’ve gone into the ‘uncomfortable zone’ have been rewarding. They have pushed and expanded my little world!

Back to the novel… Indignation is a character study within a historical timeframe and I recommend it for anyone who can appreciate the “impact of history on the lives of a vulnerable individual.” (From the publisher’s review)

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Shangai Girls by Lisa See
I was interested to read the article “Shanghai Is Ready for Its Close-Up” (Austin Ramzy) in the May 17, 2010 Time Magazine the same week that I am listening to the audio of Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls. Both the article and the book speak of Shanghai’s glory days of the 30’s and early 40’s. I am still largely ignorant of Chinese history and culture as are most Americans, I fear. Reading Lisa See’s stories brings some of that history to life for us. (Snowflower and the Secret Fan was on our group list in 2008.) Women’s lives have been so very difficult until very recently! I feel so fortunate to have been born in the second half of the 20th century in the U.S.A.
Pearl and May are sisters who are called ‘beautiful girls’ in Shanghai of the 1930’s. But when their father reveals that his gambling has cost the family everything, the girls are bartered to husbands in arranged marriages. The girls refuse to go to America or acknowledge their marriages until war and death and loss of everything force them to flee.
The family intrigue is woven through with lies and secrets that lead to fear and inevitable tragedy. Although See ends the tale with the protagonist’s hope-filled vows, everything that had preceded that vow left me, as the reader, doubting that there could ever be a happy ending for Pearl and May.

Back to the Time article about the World’s Fair in Shanghai this summer… sounds like Shanghai is a swinging city again! I want to read more to learn more about it.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Push, High Stakes, and 39 Clues series

It has been almost a month since my last post. I’ve been busy working, going places, and reading! Here’s what I’ve read this month:

High Stakes by Dick Francis

Francis just passed away a few weeks ago. He was certainly a prolific author with a large following. Both my husband and I enjoy his race-track mysteries. We listened to this one together on a long road trip.

I also recently finished the first seven books in The 39 Clues series – by Rick Riordan, Gordan Korman, Peter Lerangis, Patrick Carman, and Jude Watson. The idea of so many different authors working on a series with a continuing story line is a very intriguing concept. I’m truly enjoying the series as the child protagonists are outsmarting a variety of wily and wealthy opponents in the race to uncover historical clues and either save or destroy the world with some ultimate formula. Well done! Scholastic Publishing has another literary winner that could almost rival the ‘Harry Potter’ series! We’ll see. They are certainly publishing them at a faster pace.

Push by Sapphire

Wow! This is a hard book to read. The language seemed so outrageous when I first started reading, but that was soon replaced by outrage at the father who would rape his daughter and the mother who abused the child in so many ways. How could she possibly thinkthat she “was a good mother” because she had dressed her baby girl in pink and taken her for walks? I am glad I kept reading to the end. There are thousands (or millions?) of girls and women who have been raped and beaten and treated as property by immoral, uneducated swine who think they are men. Not in my book! How can we ever stop this abuse when the media (TV, movies, video games) glamorize violence and violent sex?

I would hope that educating children would help, but I have been witnessing the layoffs of guidance counselors, librarians, and other school staff who have the chance to provide that positive educational climate. We all have to do whatever we can one person/one day at a time to provide positive materials or role models to combat this kind of evil.

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