Vines and Threads: A Review of Leviathan

We sped past the pine trees, leaving only exhaust in our wake. The wooded area by the highway was lush and green, but I recognized a plant that should not have been there. The kudzu vine is invasive in my area; you see it everywhere. How could we contain it? I frowned, gazing at a tree completely enveloped in the plant. If only the kudzu vine had never been introduced. How would the landscape look like today? The car switched lanes, bringing me away from my object of study. Would we even know the kudzu vine was a problem? Worse, would another invasive plant just have taken its place?

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What We Say, What We Do: A Review of The Thief

Tipping my head back, I licked the last drops of pink lemonade from my cup. I glanced around the table; my cousins and my siblings were still drinking their lemonade.

“Oof,” one cousin said, glancing at a brimming cup. “I don’t think I can drink this. I’m full.”

We made appropriate sounds of sympathy. Sighing, the cousin dumped the lemonade into the pitcher.

Another cousin squawked. “That’s gross! You’ve dumped in your backwash! I’m not drinking any more lemonade.”

“Aw, come on,” I said airily, “There’s nothing wrong with that lemonade. I’d drink it.” I picked up my glass and stared at it for a moment. Then I grimaced. I wanted more lemonade, but somehow, I couldn’t make myself drink from that pitcher.

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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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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.

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.

All Heroes: A Review of The Outsiders

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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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Intelligent People: A Review of Dodger

dodger

Intelligence is a strange thing. No one can measure it, no one can make it, no one can see it—yet we all prize it. But intelligence is difficult to define. After all, how do you tell if you are intelligent? Does intelligence mean that you are academically skilled, or does it mean that you know how to navigate the ways of the world? Or perhaps there are different types of intelligence—academic knowledge, and something else entirely: a sort of cunning that few have. A certain Mister Dodger, even though he is a fictional character, is a perfect example of that elusive, cunning kind of intelligence.

The novel Dodger is by Sir Terry Pratchett (an author who received knighthood because of his services to literature), the acclaimed writer of the Discworld series. The main character, Dodger, is a seventeen-year-old street urchin who lives in early Victorian London. When a mysterious young woman tumbles out of a street carriage one night, Dodger rushes to defend her from her pursuers. Of course, he doesn’t know who she is, but she looks important—he might be able to get some money out of returning her. But what seemed like easy money becomes a complex adventure, which might just change Dodger forever.

Dodger is an urchin, more specifically a tosher: someone who looks for valuables in the sewers. As you can imagine, this means that Dodger is generally smelly and wet. He doesn’t mind. Dodger is actually quite content with his life. He is not a thief (or so he says) but he does not work, not really. On good days he will make more than a chimney sweep would in one day! But after his run-in with the golden-haired young woman, Dodger begins to think of life quite differently.

In his adventures with the young woman, Dodger meets Mister Charlie Dickens. Mister Charlie has a rather annoying habit of scribbling everything down, but Dodger knows that he is a unique man—one of those people you can’t trick or steal from. Charlie is intelligent, in both the academic and the street sense, and that makes him exceptional. Mister Charlie would be a dangerous enemy but becomes a valuable ally because he knows how people in certain situations think.

Dodger is a funny, surprising book with lovable (if smelly) characters. But underneath the action and puns is a deep reflection of the world itself, and all the intelligent people who inhabit it.

Middle-grade historical fiction, ages 12–14.

You can buy this book here.