In the Darkness: A Review of Lost Boys

Lost Boys (2)

I dropped to a crawl and struggled through the door leading to the crawlspace. It smelled of earth and bricks and mortar. The floor was covered with a large sheet of black plastic, and above me fluffy bits of pink insulation hung from the ceiling. Chunks of fallen insulation lay scattered on the black plastic. I peered into the gloom at the other end of the crawlspace; it was dark enough that I couldn’t see the other wall. I scrambled outside, satisfied that nothing worse than insulation lay underneath our house.

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Beautiful, Slow, and Alive: A Review of The Hidden Life of Trees

I have always loved trees. Whenever my siblings and I would go to the large park near our home, I would find a tree to sit in. I liked sitting in the large, sturdy pine next to the playground, but often I would clamber into one of the three small Judas trees at the other side of the park. The feeling of the rough bark underneath my fingers and the sight of the branches reaching up into the endless blue sky always entranced me. A year later, when I started a biology course, I realized that trees are not slow and sleepy, but awake and working. And when I read The Hidden Life of Trees—well, I was just blown away.

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A Room Full of Laughter: A Review of The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

My two siblings sat in front of me, holding the script to the monologue in their hands. I stared back and took a deep breath. Then I began the monologue. My younger sibling smiled, and soon my older sibling followed suit. As I continued, speaking the ridiculous words in a ludicrous accent, they laughed outright. I tried desperately to keep my face straight. But the words to the monologue were so absurd that I gave up and succumbed to laughter, sinking down the wall. My companions laughed right along with me, filling the room with our laughter. The script, so painstakingly copied from an exceptional play, was left lying on the bed.

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. It relates the story of John Worthing, an earnest young man seeking to marry Miss Gwendolen Fairfax, a young woman residing in London. Although Miss Fairfax accepts John’s proposal, her mother, Lady Bracknell, opposes the union. When John’s best friend, Algernon, joins the fray, he wreaks havoc on John’s social life in a hilarious game of mixed identities.

The Importance of Being Earnest is more than a comedy: it is a criticism of Victorian society. Through puns and wordplay, Wilde exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian social customs. In one such instance, Algernon and John’s protégé, Cecily, become engaged, but Lady Bracknell once again opposes the marriage. However, Lady Bracknell quickly changes her tone when she discovers that Cecily is heir to a small fortune, although proclaiming that marriages should never be mercenary. With his subtle and hilarious use of dialogue, Wilde creates a satirical, absurd, yet realistic image of Victorian life.

Despite the apparent dryness of this story’s format—after all, plays are without internal narrative or description—The Importance of Being Earnest is extremely vivid. The characters are lifelike, if somewhat farcical. Take Algernon, the quick-witted dandy who adores food, or Lady Bracknell, the brisk matron who says the most ridiculous things. Through only their words, these characters come to life. It is a true delight to read John and Algernon’s nonsensical banter, and even the house butlers Lane and Merriman are unique in their droll gravity.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a stunning work of art. Although almost 125 years old, this story remains fresh and funny—enough to fill a room with laughter.

Ages: 13 and up.

You can buy this book here.

Shattered: A Review of Into the Wild

Into the Wild

I shifted in my seat and stared out the car window. Outside, tall pine trees rushed by, a dreamy green blur on the edge of the monotonous asphalt highway. My eyes half-closed, I pictured the highway as a thin grey line running through an endless sea of trees. What if there were no lonely malls, no housing complexes, no power plants, only dense green forest? I opened my eyes once again. Beyond the blurry pines I could see a cellphone tower silhouetted against the sky. The pieces of my shattered fantasy fell about me. No, this was still America; only much farther north could my fantastical forests be found.

Into the Wild is a nonfiction book written by the journalist Jon Krakauer. An expansion of a 9,000-word article that Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine, it tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man born in California in 1968. McCandless traveled all over the country, but his true goal was to live in the Alaskan wilderness, living off the land. Through dramatic imagery and extensive research, Krakauer manages to patch together a vivid picture of McCandless’s adventures—a difficult feat, considering that once Christopher McCandless entered the woods of Alaska, he  never came back to tell his tale.

Chris McCandless was a complex young man with an intensely idealistic way of thinking. A devoted follower of the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless believed the only way to find the true self was to return to the wild. Many people remark that McCandless was a foolish, arrogant young man who underestimated nature. However, McCandless was experienced and knew that the wilderness would not be kind. But did he really?

Jon Krakauer brings the story of Chris McCandless’s adventures to life. He evokes a sense of yearning for the forest; he captures that feeling of restlessness that occasionally stirs and stretches within the self. Perhaps this is because Krakauer experienced it so acutely—he scaled a mountain in a fit of such yearning. Why is it that some feel this need to get away from society? Are they melodramatic romantics? Are they searching for some form of truth? Are they looking for a dream?

Into the Wild is a tragic and compelling book. A haunting, revelatory volume, it captures the delicate story of Chris McCandless, the young man who rebuilt his shattered fantasy—just to have his life shattered.

Ages: 13 and up

You can buy this book here.

Noise and Silence: A Review of The Chosen

The Chosen

I squeezed my eyes shut. The book I was reading sat in my sweaty hands, its sharp corners cutting into my palms. Why couldn’t the house be quiet? I felt like crying. There was too much noise—the vacuum’s irritating drone coming from the hallway, my sister singing some song of her own invention, the CD player playing classical music, someone making soup in the kitchen—and I couldn’t concentrate on the book in my hands. And yet with the noise came the certainty of life. Was this better than those afternoons when I was alone in the house, huddled on the couch? Was eternal noise better than eternal silence?

The Chosen is an award-winning novel written by Chaim Potok. It tells the story of Reuven Malter, a young Jewish boy living in 1940s Brooklyn. Reuven is playing baseball one day when a boy named Danny Saunders deliberately strikes Reuven in the face with the ball. When Danny visits Reuven at the hospital later that week, their friendship begins to bloom. But Danny’s father, a Hasidic Jew, is unlike any Jew that Reuven (a Zionist) has ever met. Will Reuven be able to weather this bitter clash of cultures?

Danny Saunders is a fascinating character. Danny is a genius; he knows how to speak several languages and is reading Freud (a German psychologist) by the age of fifteen. Although he is not allowed to, he reads American literature and papers written by revolutionary scientists. In fact, he is so bright that his father, a rabbi, despairs. Can one be too intelligent? To Reb Saunders, Danny’s father, yes. Danny’s hunger for knowledge is too great, Reb Saunders complains. How will Danny learn compassion?

One of the main themes of this book is silence. Danny is raised in silence; his father only speaks to him when they are studying the Talmud, the Jewish scripture, or to give orders. When Reuven hears of this, he is horrified. And when Danny tells Reuven that he can hear silence, Reuven is even more perplexed. He learns that Danny hears the pleas of the world where Reuven hears emptiness. Thus Danny learns compassion—and yet it is taught in the most uncompassionate of ways.

The Chosen is a deep, reflective novel about Judaism, friendship, and silence. With its nostalgic, contemplative voice, it persuaded me that perhaps, just perhaps, too much noise is better than too much silence.

Middle-grade historical fiction, ages 12+

You can buy this book here.

Inside and Out: a Review of Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces

I knelt by the scattered makeup tubes which lay heaped on the floor, picking them up and putting them into their proper places. They were only props for a sketch we were performing, but the other girls with me were examining them expertly.

“Do you wear makeup?” one of them asked me, twisting a perfume bottle in her fingers.

“No,” I responded simply. I don’t, and I don’t particularly care.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” my friend said earnestly from behind me, “You would look really pretty.”

“I’m not pretty enough already?” I gasped in mock horror. The girls laughed, and that was that.

Later that night, the conversation came back to me. I wondered at the silliness of it. Why this fixation with outward beauty? Don’t our actions speak for themselves?

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche, written by C. S. Lewis. Orual is the ugly daughter of the King of Glome. Her beautiful half-sister, Istra, who is also called Psyche, is one of the people Orual truly loves. But Orual’s heart breaks when Psyche is tied to a tree on a mountainside, as a sacrifice to the goddess Ungit, who according to legend will devour Pysche. As Orual grows, her grudge against the gods deepens, the injustice of it torturing her day and night.

Orual is haunted by her ugliness throughout her life. Her father calls her a hobgoblin, and she never denies it. But as she grows older, she becomes more self-conscious. When she becomes queen, she dons a veil and does not take it off for decades. Eventually, Orual’s ugliness begins to affect more than just her face. As her grudge grows and her loneliness deepens, she realizes something terrifying: she is ugly—inside.

Orual discovers the error of her ways only days before she finally dies, in the form of a vision. In the vision, she is put on trial before the gods. She realizes that her grudge, which embittered her throughout her long life, was childish and sullen. To find beauty, she must look beyond the face. Beyond the hair, skin, lashes—beyond the physical. Mortals will only accept one with a truly beautiful face; the gods will accept one with a beautifully true soul.

Till We Have Faces is a singular novel. C. S. Lewis’s signature honesty and thoughtfulness make it heartbreaking and thought-provoking: a testimony of the difference between outward appearance and inward beauty.

High-school historical fantasy, ages 14+

You can buy this book here.

Little Hungry Pizzas: A Review of Ready Player One

Ready Player One - Gate

I found myself staring at the words INSERT COIN. I clicked the button. I was playing Google’s Pac Man doodle, and as the game started, I maneuvered the little pizza around hesitantly. I lost. I played again. I lost. I played again. Seized by a mad determination to win the game, I played for over half an hour until I won. What if the world was like a video game? I wondered, grimacing as the words GAME OVER appeared again on the screen. What if the world was a video game?

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All Heroes: A Review of The Outsiders

FullSizeRender

I find stories that have “bad guys” versus “good guys” simplistic and rather irritating. I generally try to avoid them. As a result, I read many books where the bad guy’s motive is moving and heartbreaking. Sometimes I read a book, hating the villain until the last chapter, just to read about their past and fall in love with them. In books like these, the line between the good and the bad blurs. I find myself wondering, Who is the hero? Who is the villain?

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No Queens Here: A Review of The Goblin Emperor

thegoblinemperor

If I woke up one morning to find a messenger bowing down to me and proclaiming I was queen, I would be completely bewildered. My first reaction would be to think it was some sort of elaborate joke. If it proved to be a joke, I don’t know what I would feel. Irritation? Amusement? Regret? I would probably be relieved. All that envy and discontent at court would be uncomfortable to deal with. Somehow, royal life doesn’t seem quite so dandy anymore.

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