Trusting Minds: A Review of Graceling

 

“See you later!”

I moved away from the group, re-playing our conversation in my head. Had it gone well? I wondered idly. Did they like talking to me, or were they only being polite? I hoped not. Maybe I was too strange, though. Or maybe I was just overthinking things. I shook my head, trying to clear it, but how I wished I could peek into their minds, if only for a moment. How I wished I could know what they were thinking. What if I could?

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Strength in Weakness: A Review of The Way of Kings

My friend stared at the book in her lap in defeat. “I can’t find it,” she said, flushing uncomfortably.

“Let me see,” I said, taking it out of her hands and flipping through the smooth white pages. She stared at me for a while in a bemused silence. Then she said something which made me pause.

“Why are you helping me?”

I paused. What an odd question, I thought. I was only trying to be helpful—but, as I found the correct page for her, I wondered: would my peers exploit me for my willingness to lend a hand?

“I don’t know,” I said slowly, handing her back the book. “But I found the page.”

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A Courageous Decision: A Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

For hundreds of years, slavery was accepted as a way of life. To see people beaten for working too slowly, sold to pay off debt, or killed in fits of anger was the ugly but unquestioned norm. Today, with slavery almost gone, it is something to speak of in somber tones and with grim faces. But if slavery is so hard to speak of now, imagine how hard it would be to discuss back when it was at its peak. Who would take up the task and tell of something so awful, so horrifying, and so real?

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Struggle for Self-Control: A Review of The Eye of the World

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With a groan, I forced myself to look at the electric clock on my night table. I groaned again. It read 22:46. I should have turned off the light more than an hour ago, I thought guiltily. I nestled back into my blankets, glancing back at the book in my hands. More than anything, I wanted to keep on reading. I wanted to re-immerse myself in Rand al’Thor’s world and stay there all night. But something stopped me. Rand’s struggle was with his control of power—was I going to urge him on, and then fail to control myself?

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Emails in Elvish: A Review of The Silmarillion

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When I finished reading The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I gazed at it sadly and turned wistfully to the appendix at the back of the book. I quickly forgot my melancholy mood, however, when the appendix turned out to be a treasure trove of Middle-earth-related information. Before long, I grew obsessed with the languages of Middle-earth, particularly the elvish language Sindarin. When I couldn’t find a free Sindarin course, I resorted to sending emails to myself in said language and muttering elvish phrases under my breath. Soon, I was searching for other Tolkien books in a desperate effort to find out more about the elves. Little did I know that I had begun a journey that would take me across ancient Middle-earth.

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Manhattan: A Review of The Rainmaker

 

The RainmakerWhen we all slept in one room, I used to ask my siblings, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

One of my siblings wanted to live in Laos, in a house with screens instead of doors. I said I wanted to write in a great big lonely mansion in the mountains. My youngest sibling said, “I want to be a lawyer.”

This took us all by surprise. “Why?” we asked.

“So I can get rich and live in a penthouse in Manhattan.”

It didn’t seem as far-fetched as it really was. After all, what do lawyers do? Get a case. Win it. Make boatloads of money. Right?

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In the Darkness: A Review of Lost Boys

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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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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.