Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cleopatra's Daughter, by Michelle Moran

Cleopatra's Daughter, by Michelle Moran, depicts what life was like in Ancient Rome – the lifestyle, the politics, the scandals, and the drama. Through our tour of Ancient Rome, we follow Selene Helios, daughter of Marc Antony and Kleopatra, who is captured by the Roman dictator Octavian after his forces defeat her beloved homeland of Egypt. Throughout the novel, we watch her grow and blossom into a young woman who stands by her values and does not lose herself in the midst of utter turmoil.

The reader does not merely read the book – they live in it. It is absolutely amazing the way Moran transports her readers thousands of years back into Ancient Rome. She goes over-the-top with imagery (in a good way). Moran appeals to all five senses, using heavy doses of details and a variety of figurative language. She illustrates a vibrant shade of purple; brings alive the clanging of bells, jingling of coins, and loud chatter at the marketplace; describes the wonderful taste of ofella that melts in a person’s mouth; describes the fragrance of the clear, salty ocean breeze or stench of urine and manure in the slums; and depicts the soft, light texture of the fabric of a tunic. The details regarding architecture are quite overwhelming and illustrated to the last carving or arch – the author does not leave anything out. Although for some readers it may seem too much, Moran describes the architecture down to the last detail to bridge a connection between the readers and Selene. Selene loves to sketch all kinds of buildings, such as temples, palaces, pyramids, mausoleums, and having the book written with a special eye for the architecture of things brings the readers closer to the protagonist. Moran also does an excellent job in moving the story along and having mini plot “trap doors” and “dead ends” such as Alexander’s homosexuality, to keep the readers on their toes. A problem I did have with the book, especially in the beginning, was how the author just tosses the readers into the maelstrom of Egypt’s capture. Although that tactic works to grab the audience’s attention, it can also confuse and overwhelm the audience. There were too many names and relations mentioned, and it was very confusing to keep up. On a personal note, this novel has given me an opportunity to experience what a genuine cannot-put-it-down, thinking-about-it-in-my-sleep, abandon-all-work book is like. When I was not reading Selene’s struggles to understand the Roman customs or her headstrong, determined attitude to be Vitruvius’s apprentice, I was replaying the scene over and over in my mind, predicting what will come next. This book is for an audience of people who like to be told “everything”(as in details), who like a little scandal, who enjoy some drama, and who admire strong, determined protagonists.

Reviewed by Lilit, Grade 12
Glendale Central Library

Monday, August 1, 2016

Once Upon A Quincenera, by Julia Alvarez

An informative, yet entertaining book that portrays what it is like to grow up in the USA as a Latina. The author investigates the traditional ceremony of a Quincenera. A quinceanera, also called a quince, is a ceremony where a girl of fifteen officially transitions into womanhood. Practiced in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and various parts of Southern America it is a very important ritual for teenage girls. The author decides to tell the story of one girl’s quinceanera, Monica, and how everything is planned out and put together.

Everything is covered from the dress, to the dinner plates, to the shoes, to the flowers. By covering all matters related to the quince, Alvarez tries to show how the ceremony is a time and money consuming project that causes a great deal of trouble and stress to everyone involved. She also describes its evolution from its home countries to its introduction into the US. She weaves the story, Once Upon A Quincenera, by Julia Alvarezof the Monica’s quinceanera with her own reminiscing about the quinceanera she always dreamed of but never had, indicating that this is something that every girl dreams of. She breaks down everything very well: she describes the meaning of the “last doll”, the style and preferences of the dress, the sentimental meaning of the father and daughter dance, and the role of the court of fourteen couples. Although some of her explanations became dull when over-explained, Alvarez was not shy in giving readers the full history behind everything. She adds a lot of sentimental and tearful moments to remind the reader that this is the end of young childhood and the beginning of young adulthood. This book is especially well for young Latina's growing up here in the USA; it can be seen as a small portal to the roots of their rich culture with its many important and heartfelt ceremonies like the quinceanera.

Reviewed by Lilit, Grade 12
Grandview Library