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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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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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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Robin Hood, Deromanticized: A Review of The Outlaws of Sherwood

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I looked at the target and frowned. I had always imagined myself shooting effortlessly, looking cool and controlled as I let loose perfectly aimed arrows in rapid succession. At least, I had certainly never envisioned this. I was straining to pull the bowstring, my face red with exertion. My arrows flew high above the target, into the woods beyond me. Stories always made shooting arrows sound so easy! How could anyone ever survive using a bow and arrow alone?

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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.

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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