Archive for the ‘Death is a central theme’ Category

Book review: Song of the Lark

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

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Author:Willa Cather
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:1915

I am always blown away when a novel that is nearly 100 years old speaks to me as compellingly as Song of the Lark did. The story of Thea Kronborg, one of many children in a family

Recommended.

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Musical Review: Rent

Friday, August 20th, 2010

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Some musicals strike us as perfect, or at least nearly perfect. We’ve seen Into the Woods nearly fifty times and would be willing to watch it weekly or more if we could afford to. The book is interesting to us, most of the lyrics are clearly intentional and speak to us, the music is complex and beautiful. Sure there are songs that we think could go, or be improved, but still.

Rent seems terrifically unfinished to us. My teenage daughter who did not experience the 1980’s when AIDS first began to wreak havoc with so many lives and who had never heard the acronym AZT was utterly confused by the initial half hour. (We paused the DVD to explain what was happening and why.)

We admired Rent as an impassioned, furious, context-free snapshot of that awful time. The performers on the DVD are gorgeous, with voices to match. But the music and lyrics don’t rise to the cause they represent. The perfect song that Roger runs away to Santa Fe to write is not.

Wonder if perhaps, if the creator, Jonathan Larson, had lived to see the show on Broadway, he would have refined it further.

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Book review: Water for Elephants

Monday, May 10th, 2010

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Author:Sara Gruen
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

Fizzy says:

Great book. REALLY cool. It follows the story of one man for one summer, as he runs away to the circus. Accidentally.

Gruen definitely did her research, and gets deep into the gritty life of traveling circuses around the 1930's. The hierarchy that separated bosses, performers, and workers is very clear, and Jacob, the narrator, doesn't fit into any of those categories, which leads to an interesting and fast paced novel.

I read it in about a day and a half. SUPER good. Recommend it to anyone.

Emily says:

Beautiful and deep, but interspersed with the fascinating circus lore is unspeakable cruelty, human to human, and especially, human to animal. Balanced, sometimes, by unbelievable grace.

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Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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Author:Muriel Barbery
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction

This book is remarkable, in that with every page I read, I was more captivated.

For one thing, the author tells the story in a very interesting way: The story is narrated by two very different, but also very similar, characters. One is a 12 year old genius and the other is a 50-something year old concierge in the fancy hotel she lives in.

So that's cool, but the writing style is what really got to me. Barbery gets very deep into some philosophical questions, that at many points I found confusing at first, but once I got into my "elegance of the hedgehog mood", I really enjoyed it.

The way she uses language is just so PRETTY that I easily got sucked in. My only warning is that the ending is super surprising, although very satisfying nonetheless. I had to wait awhile to write my review because a) I didn't know what to say, and b) The ending got me pretty emotional, because the characters were so believable (I was almost crying on the bus when I finished it).

-- Fizzy

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Book review: Feed

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

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Author:M.T. Anderson
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction-dystopian

This review seems like a spoiler, but it really gives nothing away, at all...

This book really got me worried about how horrible human beings are and what we're going to do to the world... It gave me a very depressing feeling while and after reading. It is set in the (near??) future, and most people are basically controlled by their "feeds" implanted directly in their brains, which are used mostly as an excuse to constantly show them thousands of advertisements. I guess the ending is supposed to be a little hopeful, in that the main character is considering fighting the feed, when he sees its awful power over humanity, but... I think hopeful is not a word that anyone can truthfully apply to this book.


The writing style was very distracting at first, because it is VERY informal. I will explain with a quote: "I was like trying to sleep for the last few minutes of the flight, because... when we're goin hard i get real sleepy real easy, and I didn't want to be null for the unettes on the moon, at the hotel, if any of them were youch."

SO: Interesting. Very cool. Spooky. Makes you think. But definitely not cheerful. At all.

--Fizzy


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Book review: A Step From Heaven

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

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Author:An Na
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2003

I'm not sure how to rate this book, because the narration ranges from a five-year-old's perspective to that of an 18-year-old one. This is really interesting, but leaves most of the book as a very easy, lower-level read. However, this story about abuse and immigration is intense and scary.

Yung and her family emigrated from Korea when she was five to find a better life. But her dad ended up drinking and life got very hard trying to keep their heritage while living in America...

--Fizzy


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Book review: The Jewel Box

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

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Author:Anna Davis
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2009

Wars have consequences, even when they don't impact those at home directly.

Not that horrors bear comparison, but the shock to the folks at home when, eventually they heard of the carnage of World War I seems to me as if it should have been mind-altering. Hard to believe they went right back to killing each other even more horribly in World War II.

The Jewel Box
describes one woman's response to the events that affected her personally during the Great War -- she adopts the persona of a flapper.

I admire Anna Davis' ability to show that the faces women show to the world, and also the faces of men, often do not actually reflect their true experience, their sufferings. Maybe if they did, there would be much less slaughter.

Chic lit alert!

Every time my 14 yr. old saw this book lying around, she took the opportunity to make fun of me about it again. Yes, well, maybe it IS chic lit, and the cover is -- garish is probably not too strong a word -- but I found it much deeper than most. This is a story that gives rise to much thought, if not much hope, although it is not in and of itself unremittingly depressing.

-- Emily Berk

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Book review: Hello Goodbye

Friday, October 9th, 2009

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Author:Emily Chenoweth
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2009

Not that confronting human mortality can ever be easy. But coming to realize that your mother is mortally ill must be particularly difficult for a young person old enough to understand what death is, but not yet independent.

Chenoweth's heroine, still a college student, has known but refused to know consciously that her mother's brain cancer is terminal. In a story that could have been maudlin, Chenoweth lays out a "good" way for this young person to surface the bad news: in the company of her parents' good friends, with some younger people to interact with.


This is not a cheerful book, but it is lovely and gentle. The dying woman is not presented as a saint, but as someone who has earned her (up until now) comfortable life, and is striving to ensure that those who survive her flourish while she enjoys as much of them time she has left as she can.

In fact, nearly all the characters reveal themselves as flawed but mostly well-intentioned. I am glad I got to know them.


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Book review: The Kite Runner

Friday, September 18th, 2009

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Author:Khaled Hosseini
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2008

An amazing book, but sooooo sad... I wish Hosseini could have given it a slightly happier ending. I think it is cool that we were able to see an up close and personal view of Afghanistan, even if it was not really a joyful thing to see. It shows how ignorant, I at least, am about the rest of the world.

I like how we get to see Amir's understanding of his life change as he grows up and figures out his needs and how to solve them (his need for forgiveness, of freedom of choice, and ideas, revenge...)

--Fizzy, age 14


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Book review: The Book Thief

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

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Author:Markus Zusak
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:2007

Good book. About a girl during the Holocaust, but on the side we don't usually hear: She is German, but suffering as well. In the very beginning of the book Liesel's brother dies, and she is shipped off to live with "scary" foster parents. And by the middle her family is trying to keep a Jew hidden, and still "Heil Hitler" everyone they see.

The story is told by Death, which is a little bit spooky sounding, but Zusak makes Death surprisingly compassionate. As Liesel has to face the terrors of WW2, Death adds his two cents every once in a while, giving the story an interesting edge, especially because he tells us the climax of the book in the beginning, and makes us read all the way through for an explanation.

-- Fiz, age 14

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