Bridge to Terabitha

img_0492Date Read: May 28 to June 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those classic children’s novels that I somehow never read when I was a kid. Even as an adult reading it, I was quickly drawn in to the story. Jess is a boy that feels himself on the fringes of society. He does not quite fit in with his family, and does not quite fit in with the kids at school either. What seems to start off rocky with a new girl at school develops into the most meaningful friendship of his life. Jess finds a refuge in his friendship with Leslie, and their made up world of Terabithia.

While I was able to avoid direct spoilers for this one, I had been forewarned that it was sad and dealt with loss. Even knowing that, this one hit me harder than I was expecting. This is not merely a sad story, it is the kind of sad that I want to tell everyone I know that they need to read this book—but I also do not want to pass this profound sadness on to others. I usually try to avoid major spoilers when writing, but I do not know how I can give this book justice without them. Stop here if you do not want to know. Leslie dies, unexpectedly and tragically. Jess is away, having a “perfect day,” when this happens. The later chapters, as Jess begins to process and accept what has happened, are full of so many things that are difficult but so important.

Stepping away from the book for a moment, I need to talk about Samantha. Samantha was one of my closest friends in high school. She was fun, she was sweet, and she was one of those people that you knew you could always count on to be on your side when you needed her. We created cartoon characters to draw in each other’s notebooks, and talked about all of the things that we would do after high school. I was a few years older, and we started to see less of each other after I graduated. Despite ending up at the same college a few years later, we only saw each other occasionally. Although we were no longer every day friends, each time we saw each other, it was as if no time had passed. She was still my friend that would always be there—until she wasn’t. Samantha died unexpectedly at 22.

I don’t know if it’s fair to generalize the loss of a friend as a young adult to the loss of a friend as a child—but I do know that many of the actions, thoughts, and feelings of Jess after losing Leslie reflected my own experience. Paterson perfectly captures the essence of a great loss, and Jess’s reaction to his loss is so genuine that I grieved for him as well as Leslie. Every new piece hit home for me, starting from the initial shock and unreality, the sorrow of the loss itself, and then adding on secondary pain caused by the reactions of others, or even your own thoughts.

In the end, Jess does begin to see hope in a future without Leslie—while he misses her terribly, he recognizes the impact that she made on him, and uses that to move forward. I still think about Samantha often. I cannot say what path our friendship would have taken if she were still here, but I can say with certainty that I am fortunate to have known her. There are bits of her in many of the things that I do and think every day. I remember a gift she gave me for my birthday one year—a necklace and a pair of flashy earrings that I had admired at the store, but decided not to buy. She told me she knew I thought they were impractical, but that I needed them: it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks if I like them, and there’s never a good excuse not to wear hot pink. What an attitude to have.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think I would have liked her. 4 paws.”

Not Quite Narwhal

img_0255This is a silly, but fun story about friendship and belonging. Kelp lives at the bottom of the sea, but feels that he does not quite fit in with the other narwhals. One day he finds himself further away from home than expected, and sees something unusual on the distant land—a land narwhal! Kelp ventures onto land and realizes that he, too, is a land narwhal: a unicorn. He learns a bit about what that means, but inevitably becomes homesick and returns to the sea. When he gets back to his home under the sea, he is afraid to tell his narwhal friends about what he learned. Naturally, they knew this all along, and still loved him just the same. Kelp is sad that he would have to choose between two lives: in the sea with the narwhals, or on land with the other unicorns. The solution? A narwhal-unicorn beach party, of course!

I am a bit of a sucker for books that can be silly, but still give a good message for kids. You don’t have to give up you who are to fit in, and there are ways to have the best of both worlds if you think creatively! Who better to teach a lesson of acceptance than a unicorn? The illustrations are cute, and just “sparkly” enough to grab attention but not overdo it. I like this book as a read aloud. The story is fairly short and straightforward, and there are plenty of good places to pause for questions or predictions.

Unicorns seem to be particularly trendy right now, which I suppose works in favor for this book. I do get a personal giggle when it comes to unicorns, and this book hit that a little extra for me. A friend has admitted that she was an adult before she learned that unicorns were not real—“I didn’t think they were magic or anything, I just thought they were an animal that lives in another part of the world. There are other animals that have one horn, rhinos and those whales, why couldn’t there be unicorns?” Thanks for being a Unicorn Believer!

Boris’s thoughts: “Are we invited to the beach party? Do you think they have snacks? 3 paws.”

Girl with a Pearl Earring

img_0339Date Read: May 1 to May 27, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was my pick for May’s Unread Shelf Project prompt: bought because of the adaptation. I was not exactly sure how I should define this one, so I looked through my to read list for books that had adaptations. Generally speaking, I like to pair book and movie adaptations. If I see a movie I like and find out there is a book, I add it to my list; similarly, I usually make a point to see movies based on books that I’ve read. This was one that has been on my list the longest: I found out this was a book while renting the movie shortly after it came out in 2003. I purchased it for my kindle a few years later, but never seemed to get around to reading it for some reason.

I like the idea behind the novel: historical fiction meant to touch on the mystery of a painting. The painting itself is intriguing, and coupling that with a background that is generally unknown makes this a perfect subject matter. The writing was excellent, and I found Griet’s perspective interesting. However, despite enjoying the book, I felt the plot was a bit lackluster. Not much happens, there is very little character development, and while the mystery of the painting source is solved, we still do not get much of a picture of the artist.

Griet’s experience is treated as scandalous, but it is hardly that. She is merely trapped into the drama of a higher class that is unable to take blame for their own actions. With the whole novel being from her perspective, it’s difficult to say whether the intimacy she describes is truly present. Of course, I imagine that there must be some level of intimacy reached between painter and subject, but Griet perhaps exaggerates it, or simply wishes it to be something deeper. There is no doubt from her words that she has feelings for the painter, but there is nothing in his actions that really suggests he sees her as anything more than an assistant and model. Griet seems to find some resolution in her reflections on that time after Vermeer’s death, but then this is thrown into confusion and further mystery with the revelation of the letter and Vermeer’s request for the return of the painting.

Despite some issues with the plot, I did enjoy the artistic aspects included: Griet’s descriptions of the paintings to her father, the references throughout the book to other works by Vermeer. More than once I was drawn to seek out the paintings described. I also really enjoyed the discussion of color, including the actual making of colors for the painting and Griet’s discovery of color as something deeper than she imagined.

Boris’s thoughts: “Sounds a bit like a snoozer. I like snoozing. 3 paws.”

The Little World of Liz Climo

img_0393This is another book from someone that I discovered on Instagram. While I do not remember exactly how I originally came across her work, it was instant live. It’s cute and quirky and always makes me smile. I love the simplicity in style, combined with the wit in each character. I knew that she had published books, but had never really sought them out. I stumbled across this at a bookstore and decided that I needed it on my shelf. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of here books!

This a perfect little book for when you need to take a break– whether that is from some heavier reading, or taking a step back from a rough day. The problems of the animals in Liz Climo’s world are perfectly balanced between real humanity and imagined animal issues. Despite having followed her online for some time, I found that there was plenty of content here that I had not seen before. One more thing this book is perfect for? A blog post in a pinch, when you have been feeling too busy and tired to put mental energy into writing.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think that bear and I could be friends. 4 paws.”

The Immortalists

img_0238Date Read: April 16 to April 29, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Would you want to know the day that you are going to die? This story is built around a fairly simple premise, but unwinds into an intricate and complex tale of family and relationships. As children, four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, visit a woman that people say can tell your future—specifically the day that you will die. Over the course of the novel, the following 40-ish years, we get to know each of the siblings a bit better in their own rite, as well as in relation to their family.

While reading, I loved and hated each one of the siblings. I adored their individuality, I cursed their faults, and I grieved each of their subsequent deaths. There were so many points that I could not put it down, even when I had a sinking feeling of what was coming. The story of each sibling is vibrant and emotional; despite the huge differences in how they chose to live in the time they were told they had remaining. The obvious discussion, which is even mentioned on the back cover, is the intertwining of fate and choice. Would Simon have lived so recklessly if he had not anticipated dying young– would he have lived longer if he had played it safe? How did knowledge of a death date play into Klara’s obvious mental illness, and would she have met the same end without it? Even Daniel, who claims to not believe the prophecy, is driven by the knowledge to actions that seem spectacularly out of character. While there could certainly be much said here, I thought the sibling relationship aspect was even more interesting, in the context of the impending dates.

After each death, we get a glimpse of that character from the view of the next, with trails of these through each sibling’s story. In each case, the surviving siblings carry with them some perceived responsibility for those before them. Is Klara responsible for Simon because she encouraged him to live his life? Is Daniel responsible for any of this by convincing his siblings to see the woman in the first place? What about Varya, who was oldest and should have known to put a stop to it? In her meeting with the woman, Varya asks, “what if I change?” Was her destiny determined before she asked, or was it the knowledge of her death date that changed her?

As expected, the novel overwhelmingly centers on death. However, it is also full of life—the richness of each story is intriguing and compelling. I loved the ending, which I thought contrasted with the first sections, but fit perfectly in the context of the full story. In a novel about death, we end on a note of life and hope for the future.

Boris’s thoughts: “After all of that… no, I don’t think I want to know the day I will die. I would, however, like to take a nap. 2 paws.”

The Remains of the Day

img_0221Date Read: March 18 to April 16, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Although it took me a painfully long time to get through this one, I actually quite enjoyed it. The story unfolds slowly, with the past and present interspersed. The narrative is a sort of stream of consciousness, a trail through present circumstances and reflections on the past as our narrator, Stevens, drives himself through the countryside. It is beautifully written, and the style was striking to me– the type of mind wandering is very much like the train of thought that I often find myself in when driving alone for a length of time.

Stevens is intriguing as a narrator, in that he is both extremely reliable, and completely unreliable. He recounts events themselves with extreme precision, but with no acknowledgment of emotion. He talks at length of dignity, but never truly defines it for himself. His definition, it seems, is that dignity means detachment. He separates himself from reality, making himself into what he believes his employer wants him to be. As he gets closer to his meeting with Miss Kenton, we start to see some small cracks in this shell. Although he does not yet admit it, he denies his connection to his former employer. While he will defend Lord Darlington to readers, he will not do so publicly. He begins to admit that perhaps he was misleading himself to believe Miss Kenton wants to return to Darlington Hall with him.

The ending we get is both tragic and hopeful. While his reunion with Miss Kenton is heartbreaking (he even admits this himself!), he seems to get some closure he was lacking. At that moment, Stevens becomes a bit more understandable as a character. His conversation with a stranger on the pier gives us a little hope for his future– perhaps he will seize upon the remains of his day, even if it is simply in his mastering of bantering with his new employer.

Boris’s thoughts: “You need to start reading some happier books. 2 paws.”

Dragons Love Tacos

img_0228-1Did you know that dragons love tacos? This was a new edition to our school library this year, and the librarian suggested that I should bring it home for Boris to read before it went out into circulation.

This book is light on plot, but high in silliness. The first part of the book provides some various evidence about how much dragons love tacos. We get a bit of a story going in the second part of the book, when we are introduced to the one thing that dragons love more than tacos: taco parties. BUT, of course, dragons cannot have hot sauce on their tacos. It makes them too fiery. When the boy in the story plans the best taco party ever, there is a mix-up with his totally mild salsa, and chaos ensues. Don’t worry though, even though it was an accident to burn down the whole house, the dragons will help rebuild. Because dragons have building skills, and they are nice, in addition to loving tacos.

It was a pretty easy read, and pages are dominated by illustrations rather than text. It would be a non-intimidating book for early readers, although there are some more difficult words. I can see this as a good read aloud. It’s silly enough to keep most kids interested, even without a big draw to find out what happens in the end.

Boris thoughts: “I am a dragon. I never knew. 4 paws.”