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.”

Brave New World

img_9303Date Read: March 3 to 18, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Third time is the charm, so to speak. After starting this book on two other occasions, I finally made it all the way through!

I had a bit of difficulty with March’s prompt from The Unread Shelf Project: the book that has been on your shelf the longest. Here’s the thing– I have about 60 books that have been on my shelf the longest (the books that I added within the first two days of starting my Goodreads account 8 years ago). Part of the reason that I chose this one over the others is that I had started it before, but never made it very far in. A friend of mine also lists this as one of her favorites, so I thought it would be worth powering through! (It was.)

I am not sure that you can get more “classic dystopia” than Brave New World. While I think we can all agree why the society is problematic from any viewpoint, there is an interesting balance struck. Society is functional, as it balances productivity with consumption, and meets human needs on a very basic level (really, what more do we need than food, sex, and entertainment?). To top it off, everyone is trained from birth to know what they want and to be happy with their place.

While I was not really crazy about the writing style (a bit dry, matter of fact, like I would expect in a textbook), I did like the way that the society was initially set up for us. We get a basis of how the society is built by its introduction to the students touring the hatchery, and then the details are filled in from three perspectives: Lenina, who is wholly satisfied in this world; Bernard, who knows enough to be critical, but is content enough to do little more than push boundaries; and finally the Savage, a complete outsider who is horrified by what he sees happening around him.

One other piece to this that I found interesting, is that this is a problematic society that recognizes that it is problematic. Those at the top realize the monotony of life for the individual, but choose to maintain it as is. Being “in the know” gives them to freedom to think and even criticize society, but this must be kept secret from the masses. This puts quite a spin on the punishment of being transferred to an island– the islands are the only place where people can live and think freely! Even the Director admits at the end, it would be a sort of unknown luxury to live on an island. Perhaps I should see about being transferred to Iceland.

Boris’s thoughts: “Any society that does not include CATS is not worth considering. 1 paw.”

Cannery Row

img_8918Date Read: January 20 to February 2, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.

Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.

Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?

Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”

 

Gingerbread Friends

img_8670While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.

Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.

I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”

The Boy of a Thousand Faces

img_8077At 48 pages, this is not quite a children’s picture book, but not quite a novel either. Something in between: perhaps a children’s novella? I am a big fan of Brian Selznik. I love the style of his novels and the way he combines words with illustrations to tell a story. This is a little different than his longer works, in that he uses the pictures to supplement this story rather than to continue driving the plot. However, the pictures are no less essential here than in his novels.

Being born on Halloween, it is no surprise that Alonzo has a fascination with monsters. His love is fueled by the late-night horror film show hosted by Mr. Shadow, where he discovers the greatness of Lon Cheney. Alonzo is inspired by the films, which turns into a dream to become the “boy of a thousand faces.” I love that his character has a dream that is outside of what might be considered normal. Alonzo goes beyond “I want to be a movie star” to actually working on and creating something new. His goal is not to be famous, but in the creation of something to be enjoyed by others.

The reciprocal relationship between Alonzo and Mr. Shadow is interesting as well. Alonzo is inspired by Mr. Shadow and his show, reaching out to him when he is beginning to feel disillusioned with his dream. At the same time, Mr. Shadow believed that nobody was interested when his show ended, but was inspired by Alonzo to “bring back” something that he loved in a new way.

I love this as a tribute to traditional horror films, special effects, and Lon Cheney. I think it is also a great introduction to the horror genre. It is a bit creepy, but not something that would truly scare most children. It’s perfect for kids who might have an interest in things that are a bit dark seeming, that might seem a little weird to others.

Boris’s thoughts: “Hmmm… dark and weird… I approve. 3 paws.”

The Little Prince

img_6395Date Read: June 10 to June 12, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me until 2018 to read this book. I really loved this book, but I also have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m going to admit up front that I’m not sure this is going to count as a traditional book review– more of my own semi-rambling thoughts. Although, I suppose that is at least somewhat appropriate for such a well known story.

The Little Prince is a book about what a pain adults can be, written by an adult for children, but maybe actually for the adults that are reading the book to children. Did I lose anyone there? Understandable.

I suppose what I’m getting at here, is that I cannot quite decide who the intended audience actually is for this book. Certainly it is written as a children’s book, but there is so much that I feel is intended for adults. These things, of course, are good reminders. We are kind of a pain– especially from the perspective of children. We are so often wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own things to do, our own “matters of consequence.” At the same time, I think there are plenty of themes in there for children as well– responsibility, relationships, recognizing that our actions are part of what gives the things around us value. Perhaps these are themes for children that are also areas where adults may need some reminders?

Honestly, I could probably type for days without ever feeling that I have done this book justice. It is sad, but it is sweet. If you’ve debated reading it, I would suggest that you stop putting it off. It is a fast, easy read–the only reason I did not finish it in a day is laziness and silly adult responsibilities. Even if you do not love it, it is a book that I feel undoubtedly is worth the read.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this counts as a snuggle-time book. 4 paws.”

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Date Read: August 14 to September 10, 2017img_5077

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is one of several books that I have placed in the category of “I can’t believe nobody made me read this before I was an adult.” I know that I had wonderful and well meaning English teachers throughout my time in school, and many of them probably assumed that another teacher would have us students read the classics at some point, but somehow I missed out on several books such as this. Alas, I somehow escape high school without ever opening a book by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or myriad others that are considered the “books everyone has read” (or, perhaps, read just enough of to pass the class). Turns out, I actually quite like reading books typically labeled as “classics.” Admittedly, I probably have not read as many as I should. I digress.

I did feel a bit at a disadvantage for not reading Tom Sawyer first. I realize that this is not exactly a sequel to the other book, but felt there was a bit of lacking of background that I may have gotten from the other book. However, that did not stop me from enjoying this one. I enjoyed the series of adventures, strung together into a plot, but often possible to consider as independent storylines. I appreciated getting a glimpse of Tom Sawyer as a character in the end, although I admit that I liked Huck Finn better as a character. He is presented very much in the context of his “white trash upbringing,” but is smart and often thoughtful in spite of it.

The writing in period/southern dialect took a bit of getting used to, but was not a huge challenge to read. Of course, everyone reviewing this book must address the frequent use of the “n word.” Yes, it’s there. Personally, I can get past this considering the time and context– we are talking about a book that was set and published in the 1800s. I actually found it to have aged better than other publications from the time period.

Boris’s thoughts: “Classics? Are those the kinds of books that make you sit on the couch for a long time at night? I like those too. 4 paws.”