Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Afterlife, by Gary Soto

Everyone wonders where they will go and what will happen after they die. Gary Soto's The Afterlife, takes us on an adventure filled, tearful, yet enlightening journey with a Latino boy named Chuy. The story begins with Chuy getting killed in a club bathroom by a man waring yellow shoes. As we flip the pages and read more and more of this amazing book, we are driven into journeys with him, almost anticipating where we're going next. Chuy realizes he is now a ghost, and has to deal with both the fear and excitement of his powers, and abilities. He learns he can walk through walls, and be anywhere without anyone knowing. Throughout his journey, he visits family members, and sees them mourning his death, realizing that he really did have people who cared about him. He goes on a quest to find his murderer "yellow shoes" and meets a homeless ghost who terrorizes him. Of course, what would a story be without a little romance? The love that creates between him and this beautiful ghost named Crystal follows through the story. This comedic, dramatic, romantic, and almost theatrical book is the perfect entertainment for teenagers. Read it to find out more!

To me, the Afterlife was very captivating. I felt as if I were Chuy. The story is written in first person, so the narrator was Chuy himself. I was able to know exactly what was going on in his head, and in front of him, and Soto's idea of using first person for this story was perfect. I would recommend this book for many different reasons. One of them being that it teaches you lessons of life. It teaches you the importance of life, family, love, and just all those things that you come across on a daily basis that you think don't matter. It is greatly entertaining and will grasp the reader's attention in an instant. The Afterlife is also very grammatically written, yet easy and fun to read. Make sure to check-out a copy today from your nearest library and put your walking shoes on, because you're about to be taken on a long and fun journey!
-Reviewed by A.A., grade 12.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, is a philosophical take on the key ideas of twentieth century, including absurdism, determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism. All these -isms may get a little confusing, but you will understand the novel without understanding a word about philosophy. Divided into two parts, the novel explores the before and after parts of the life of the protagonist, Meursault. The reader will immediately see the unconventionality of the novel when he/she sees Meursault's noncommittal reaction to his mother's death. He is aware of the loss of a loved one, but not actually affected by it, almost bored by the proceedings of the funeral just smoking and sitting the entire time. However, everybody around him seems to enjoy his company, especially his girlfriend, Marie, who is set on a marriage few days into their romance. Meursault's life and ultimate downfall can be credited to his friend Raymond Sintes, so intent on taking revenge on his own Moorish girlfriend that he hurts everyone in his life. There are elements dispersed in the novel for it to be a great movie such as courtroom proceedings, a dismal heated surrounding, subtle violence, and even murder. But there is a small disadvantage to reading this novel: the incredibly slow pace. Because the main character Meursault is so emotionless, it is hard to find anything pleasant while reading. The good elements are spread out far apart, such that the reader is left with a wistful want of an interesting event to occur. Provided enough patience and respect, you can enjoy this novel but the mature context can throw you off.
-Reviewed by S.M., grade 12.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, is a book that, although I picked up because it sounded intriguing (a twelve year old genius who is already so disgusted with society that she plans to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday?), I kept reading it because I think it helped enrich my mind. Renee is an old widowed concierge of a high-class apartment building, who adores art, literature, and all cultural things. She feels the need to hide this side of her from the world to fit the stereotypical concierge mold. Meanwhile, Paloma (the suicidal twelve year old) writes philosophical haiku that both ridicule modern life and describe her own spiritual growth as she tries to achieve her greatest heights before the deadline of her birthday. Their lives both change when a Japanese man name Ozu moves into the building. This book was translated from French. I am so overwhelmed by this book that I cannot simply go on and ruin the ending for the readers. I would give this book ten stars!

For someone like me, who is intrigued with philosophy, and loves books that will captivate my mind and give me something to think about, this book was perfect! I recommend this book to intelligent people who are willing to spend a lot of time thinking philosophically. I would also recommend it to those who wish to further their mind and think outside the box.

-Reviewed by A.A, grade 12.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eldest, by Christopher Paolini

Eldest is the second book of Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini. You have to read Eragon to understand this book. The story starts when Ajihad (leader of the Varden), Murtagh (friend of Eragon), the twins (twin magicians), and others are hunting for the remainder of the Urgals in the tunnels of Tronjheim, a large dwarf city in the Beor Mountains. As Ajihad is returning from the hunt, he and his soldiers are ambushed by a surviving group of Urgals. The onslaught occurs in front of the entire Varden (a rebel group living with the dwarves in Trinjheim), but no one realizes what is happening before the ambush is over. As Saphira (a dragon), and Eragon (Saphira's Rider) approach, they realize there are no survivors, and that the beloved leader of the Varden was dead. However, he also finds that Murtagh and the twins are missing from the dead pile. He asks Arya, and elf friend, to go after the Urgals and rescue the kidnapped. She returns later with bloodied clothes, proving that Murtagh and the Twins were dead. A meeting of the Council of Elders is called, along with Eragon, Saphira, and Arya, to decide whom the new leader of the Varden should be. The Council of Elfers basically force Eragon, Saphira, and Arya to agree with the Council that Nasuada, Ajihad's daughter, should follow Ajuhad. The Council tells Nasuada, and she agrees. After the meeting, Eragon swears his fealty to her, becoming her first vassal. now, Eragon, Saphira, Arya, and Orik, a dwarf, must travel to Ellesmera (the capital of the elves' country) in DuWelden Varden (a forest where the elves live) so Eragon and Saphira can continue to train in magic and combat under the elves command. Before they leave, Hrothgar, the king of all dwarves, offers Eragon to join his clan (there are thirteen dwarf clans) and Eragon accepts after he realizes it was a great privilege. They first travel to Narga, another dwarf city in the Beor Mountains. There, Eragon is confronted by dwarves from the Az Sweldn rak Anhuin clan. They are enraged to learn that Eragon is a member of Hrothgar's clan, Durgrimst Ingeitum, and swear that in time, they will kill Eragon. The group then travels to Ellesmera uneventfully. Meanwhile, in carvahall, where Eragon grew up, Eragon's cousin, Roran, learned that Eragon was responsible for his father's death and the destruction of their farm. He is working to rebuild his life and farm so he can face his love's father. He is in love with Katrina, Sloan the Butcher's daughter. However, there is another problem, the Ra'zac, the inhuman creatures that are really responsible for killing Roran's father, are back to arrest Roran now. Roran flees into the Spine to hide for a while. The Ra'zac and their soldiers stay in Carvahall to wait for Roran. After the soldiers set fire to the town, and the Ra'zac killed and ate someone in Carvahall, the town decides to fight back. They succeed in holding off the soldiers for a while. Roran proposes to Katrina without the consent from Sloan after a battle, and Sloan finds out. He tries to get Katrina back, but Katrina is loyal to Roran, so Sloan secretly goes to the Ra'zac and makes a bargain with them. Late that night, the Ra'zac came into Roran's room and tries ti kill him, but he manages to fend off the soldiers and becomes unstoppable with his weapon: a simple hammer. The Ra'zac give up and just kidnap Katrina, much to the dismay and anger of Roran. He tries to stop the Ra'zac, but they run away too fast. The town then learns that reinforcements are coming, and Roran convinces everyone to leave and head for Narda, a city over the Spine. Meanwhile, Eragon learns his new teachers are another dragon and Rider. His is shocked because until then, he thought he was the only Rider outside of Galbatorix's reach. The Rider's name is Oromis and the dragon's name is glaedr. Oromis and Glaedr teach Eragon and Saphira many new things about magic, battling, and other topics. Switching to the Barde, Nasuada has successfully moved the Varden from the Beor Mountains to Surda, a country that lives outside of the Empire's reach. (See the map at the very beginning of the book.) She plans turn the tide on the Empire and go onto the offensive. She moves the Varden to Aroughs to get ready for their first attack on the Empire. In the meantime, Roran and all of Carvahall have made it to Narda and have successfully rented barges to take them to Teirm. They reach Teirm and find a man named Jeod, a sailor and secret agent of the Varden. He helps the villagers commander a large enough ship to hold all the people from Carvahall. They set sail for Surda. Back in Ellesmera, Eragon attends the Blood Oath Ceremony of the elves. During the ceremony, two elves do a dance and, during a dance, an image of a dragon appears and heals Eragon of his horrible back wound that he gained at the last battle in Tronjheim. After this, Eragon now looks like an elf, and has the physical strength of one too. Soon he learns that the Varden are about to go to battle against the Empire. He finds his dwarf friend Orik, and they fly Saphira to Aroughs to join the Varden. The next day, a group of about one hundred Kull, a large species of Urgals, offer their assistance against the Empire to Nusuada, who agrees despite advice not to. The next day, the battle is on! In the middle of the battle, Roran and Carvahall come up a river to aid the Varden. Also, the Twins reappear on the Empire's side, slaughtering the Varden. To add to the situation, another Dragon Rider comes and is on the Empire's side. Eragon and Saphira must face this new threat. But they are tired from battle already! Will Eragon and Saphira have enough energy to defeat the new Rider? Can the Varden overcome the Twins and the Empire? Find out!
Personally, I think this was the perfect sequel to Eragon. The story was exciting, suspenseful, and full of surprises. I recommend this book for teens, and also any one who likes fiction or fantasy.
-K.C., grade 9.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Dystopian romance caught my attention. Of course, the title, Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, and cover of the book had a lot to do with me picking out this book, but I came to realize that was behind that cover was the best part. The title of the book is derived from the book's main focus, a disease called amor delitia nervosa, which people once thought was a disease, but is now widely agreed as one of the worst illnesses. In this society, upon reaching the age eighteen, every citizen is required to be "cured" of this disease. The cure is a surgery involving brain which will eradicate the deliria and furthermore remove the emotion and ability to feel love, and promote a better living for the citizen. Our main character, Lena, seems calm and strong, living under her Aunt Carol's rules and taking care of her two younger cousins. She anticipates the day where she will be cured. Behind this calm, smart, and very obedient Lena, darkness unfolds, and secrets untold lurk in her mind, one being her mother's suicide. She is ridiculed by her strange past. Lena's idea of the society completely changes when she meets a boy, with amber brown eyes. Both characters are well developed and Lena isn't one of those main characters you usually read about who are "perfect."
I am greatly anticipating the release of the sequel to Delirium. Unlike many futuristic and fictional stories published, this one gives a sense of reality and possibility between the idea, and the characters. I would highly recommend this book to those who love fiction, science, and romance all in one. Aside from reading mysterious ideas, and dystopian theories, Lauren Oliver delivers and idea that captivates the minds of teenagers and young adults, based on everyday things they feel. I would even say this book has a psychological twist, and will keep you on your toes until the very last word.

-Reviewed by A.A., grade 12.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse

In Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, a girl, ironically called Billy Jo, struggles to survive the Dust Bowl. During these harsh years, she encounters dust storms, fires, grasshopper attacks, and other natural disasters. She is also faced with tragedies, like losing her mother as well as her two hands. However, she never loses hope. Will she be able to survive and live to tell the tale? This was one of my favorite books because it showed me to never give up and keep moving forward. I greatly recommend this book to people who are depressed or in sadness.
-Reviewed by JunHyung, grade 7.

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, is about the convict Valjean who is released from prison after serving 19 years in France for stealing a loaf of bread. Once free, he asks around for shelter, but no one except the kindly bishop gives him shelter. Valjean steals the bishop's silverware and runs away, but is caught by the police. However, the bishop pretends he had given the silverware as a gift. In return for saving him from more prison, Valjean promises to be an honest man from then on. He moves to another town under a new name. Here he invents a new manufacturing method, bringing prosperity to the town and himself, eventually becoming the town mayor. Here he lives happily until his old prison guard, Javert, recognizes him and retakes him to jail. He soon escapes, and moves to Paris with Cosette, a girl of whom Valjean had promised to take care of her mother before she died. Here, Cosette and Marius, a revolutionary leader, fall in love, but Valjean tries to prevent them from meeting in order to protect themselves. Then a revolutionary uprising and barricading begins in Paris. Javert, working now as a spy, is discovered among the revolutionaries and is tied up. Meanwhile, on the streets of Paris, the French army launches its first wave against the uprising, during which Marius is wounded and sends a letter to Cosette, but Valjean intercepts the letter and goes out to save Marius because Cosette loves him. When Valjean arrives at the barricades, he recognizes Javert and secretly sets him free, and then tries to take the wounded Marius through the sewers to his grandfather's home. But when they get out of the sewers they are spotted and arrested by Javert. Javert, not knowing whether to do his duty or repay Valjean for saving his life lets Valjean and Marius go but then, still confused, jumps into a river and drowns. Marius gets better and marries Marius, and Valjean confesses his past. Then Valjean falls ill and dies.

This story was not only entertaining and fun to read, but also very deep and emotional. Though it was not based on a true story, it was historically accurate in depicting the setting and times, as well as in depicting the uprising. It also explored deeply human emotions, and also law vs. grace. In addition, this book was page-turning and is a must read. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for something interesting to read.
-Reviewed by Manuk, grade 9.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Musician's Daughter, by Susanne Dunlap

The Musician's Daughter, by Susanne Dunlap, is a beautifully written historical fiction novel by Susanne Dunlap that describes the adventures of the daughter of a prestigious violinist. Set in Vienna, Austria during the time of Franz Joseph Haydn, a 15-year-old girl named Theresa Maria discovers her father to be dead on Christmas Eve and with his violin missing. She is determined to solve the mystery because she can hardly believe anyone would kill her beloved father. With her adventures, she discovers a secret life her father is leading. He is aiding to the cause of freeing the Hungarian Serfs and he, along with many other fellow musicians and friends must deliver important documents showing the mistreatment of serfs by their masters and any nobles to the Emperor. Theresa also gets affiliated with the outcast Gypsy's who help her along the way. Her aristocratic, mischievous uncle and his involvement add tension as to whether Theresa's father's mission will ever be reached.
This novel does not only radiate suspense, but also offers romance. I am a musician at my school and I was attracted to this book for its musical subject as well as history. One who lacks any classical musical instruction may find some parts difficult to understand for it refers a lot to musical terms. Nonetheless, this book was very captivating and is a valuable source in European history. I think anyone who enjoys danger, music, romance, and suspense will find this book very exhilarating to read. I recommend this book to youthful ages below twenty-five.-
-Reviewed by Maryann, grade 11.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, Dick and Perry were friends from prison out on parole. However, they are soon sent back to prison, this time on a death row. The Clutter family is respected and prosperous. And Mr. Clutter is prominent figures in the Holcomb, Kansas community, while Mrs. Clutter is ill. Nancy Clutter (16) and Kenyon Clutter (15) are intelligent, well brought up, and popular children. However, the Clutter family is buried in 1959 after being murdered. The investigators and detectives are unable to discover the culprits and are about to give up. Meanwhile, Dick and Perry drive across the US and even go to Mexico. After a former prisoner-friend of Dick informs the officials that Dick was behind the murder, they search for them and eventually find them in Las Vegas.

This non-fiction story is a must read and a page turner. It was interesting and deeply analysed the emotions and thoughts of the murderers, the Clutter family, and the members of the Holcomb community. I recommend it to everyone looking for something interesting to read.
-Reviewed by Manuk, grade 9.