Another Way to Live: A Review of Akata Witch

“Well, I still think books are better than movies.”

My friend just shook his head at me, smiling. I had never been big on movies—I still am not—and I found that books left you more satisfied than two hours spent staring at a screen. When friends asked me, “Have you watched this?” I would always shake my head.

“You haven’t lived!” they would gasp, and I would laugh. Later, as I would flop onto my bed and immerse myself in my books, I would wonder: How is this, how is being different, not living?

Continue reading “Another Way to Live: A Review of Akata Witch

The Inner Cat: A Review of Northern Lights

The house was silent. I was completely alone, nestled on the couch with my book in my hands. In the stillness, the only noise was my deep breathing and the occasional turn of a page. I was fully immersed, my eyes flicking from word to word as fast as lightning. Oh, that beautiful exhilarating silence, so rare and so precious! The marvelous absence of words and—clunk. A pipe made a thumping sound somewhere in the house. I gasped and glanced up. And for one tiny, exhilarating moment, I thought I saw a brown cat walking up my arm.

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Observations on Staring: A Review of Wonder

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When I was about five years old, my family and I went to a museum in Paris. On the steps outside the museum, I painted my face green with face-paint and pretended to be a T-Rex. It was incredibly entertaining to pretend to be a dinosaur . . . until we had to go home. To do this, we took the subway. I remember sitting in my seat miserably, my face painted green and the people across the row staring at me. They probably thought I was adorable, but I didn’t see it that way. I almost started crying because I wanted that paint off my face so much.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, is the story of August Pullman. August is a homeschooled eleven-year-old. He eats ice cream, he rides his bike, and he plays video games. But August is not ordinary: he has a massive birth defect that makes his face horribly disfigured. All his life he’s faced involuntary winces, outright stares, suppressed yelps, second glances. Now he’s up against something more difficult than ever: school.

Have you ever looked at someone and wondered what they were thinking about? Wonder is especially interesting because it is written in the perspective of many different people. There’s August’s perspective, of course, but also the perspectives of Jack Will (August’s best friend), Summer (another of August’s friends), Via (August’s sister), and Miranda (Via’s friend.) It is intriguing to see how different people react to the same things. When Jack says something mean about August, he is disgusted with himself. August is surprised and resentful; Summer is sympathetic with Jack.

Wonder is like chestnut honey. When you first taste it you feel sweetness, although there is a hint of bitterness. When you swallow, the bitterness stays (although not unpleasantly). Just like chestnut honey, August is a sweet boy. He jokes about his defect, like the time he claims that UglyDolls were based on him. When I read that, I couldn’t help laughing a tad. But in the book there is also a bitter sadness that lingers—sometimes it rubs your throat raw.

Wonder is wonderful (no pun intended): funny, sad, insightful, and bittersweet. Being stared at for ten minutes in the subway felt horrible, but it is quite another thing to be stared at your whole life. I don’t think I’m going to stare ever again.

Ages: 11+

You can buy this book here.

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A Pleasing Flash: A Review of Private Peaceful

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“My life flashed before my eyes.” You can find that phrase anywhere—and curiously, it is always written when something goes horribly wrong in a story. But if it is so common, why is a description of “my life” never written? What would it include? Dinner? Sleep? Well, here is your answer at last.

Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpugo, is a story about the life of Thomas “Tommo” Peaceful. Tommo has one night left, and deep down in the trenches of World War I, he remembers every moment of his eighteen years of life. Sad and grim, with unique characters, Private Peaceful is a book—or a life—to remember.

There are two worlds in Tommo’s life: his war world and his home world. Somehow, both become infused with sadness—a sadness that creeps into every hidden nook and cranny—and then explodes. The first explosion comes at home, when Father dies, and then a dog’s death, Molly’s affair, and World War I. And of course the creeping, crawling sadness is everywhere in the war world. And then the sadness changes: it becomes grimmer, colder, harder. As Tommo describes the greedy rats, the vicious lice, the cold mud, and the harsh orders, you set your teeth and brace yourself as if you were in the trenches too . . .

In Private Peaceful there were extraordinary characters with strong personalities in both worlds. At home, there is Joe, big and friendly and unusual. Although disabled, Joe is that little bit of happiness in this story. Even though his signature is a large, inky thumbprint, for me his signature is “Oranges and Lemons,” the comforting song he sings day in and day out. In the trenches we meet another (despicably) unique character: Sergeant “Horrible” Hanley. This nickname is no misnomer. Sergeant Hanley is the harshest, most loathsome beast in the animal kingdom. And in the end, he leaves us readers with a smarting wound in our hearts.

Private Peaceful was a sad wonder. It is a must-read to anybody who enjoys tragedies and World War I stories; however, anyone can appreciate this book. When you read it, your life will flash before your eyes, but with unexpected pleasure.

Ages: 11+

You can buy this book here.

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Let Your Spirits Soar: A Review of Catherine, Called Birdy

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When someone says “Middle Ages,” what do you think of? Dashing princes on white stallions and blonde princesses in long blue gowns? Or maybe peasants that cheer as their lady and lord ride through the streets? In any case, most people aren’t likely to think of a freezing stone mansion, a young troublemaking lady, and fat, old suitors. But believe it or not, those were the Middle Ages!

Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman, tells the story of a curious, high-strung 14-year-old lady. Catherine hopes to be a crusader, a monk, a peddler, a songwriter . . . anything but an unwillfully wedded wife. Realistic yet full of feisty humor, Catherine, Called Birdy will definitely improve your mood.

Catherine is forever playing pranks, which gave this book much of its humor. Catherine always describes her shenanigans as worth the “crack,” or spank, administered afterwards. One especially memorable joke is when she snips up lute strings and sprinkles them on a hot plate of meat. The heat makes the strings wiggle, making them look like maggots, transforming a potentially peaceful (and boring) dinner into an exciting one. But Catherine’s actions are not the only reason the book is funny. With her frank wording, it is virtually impossible not to laugh (or at least snigger).  In fact, by the time I had read two pages, I was already giggling!

Catherine, Called Birdy represented the time period well. Some characters were extremely superstitious, such as Morwenna, Catherine’s nurse. Morwenna informs Catherine about an enchantment to separate lovers and performs a spell to rid one of Catherine’s dogs of a devil (which turned out to be a candied fig). The characters weren’t beauties, either! Catherine was gray-eyed and brown-haired; her father was fat, had bad breath, and shouted his way through life. The settings were accurate as well: the castle was freezing, everything was infested with fleas, and the great hall’s floor was very dirty. I think I actually would have been repelled by this book had it not been so accurate!

Catherine, Called Birdy was blithe and true to life. Comparing this book to other medieval tales about dragon-slaying kings marrying shallow-minded princesses is like comparing a sparrow to a flea. So lift the cover and be prepared to let your spirits soar!

Ages: 11+

You can buy this book here.

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