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Posts Tagged ‘wish i’d read that challenge’

“Landon,” I asked softly, “what’s wrong with Robert?”

“Took a minie ball in the shoulder at the Big Black River.”

I knew he was lying.

“But why is he so…”

“So what?”

“Like he’s carrying such a burden inside him?”

“You mean suspicious, mistrusting, and fearful?”

“Yes.”

“He’s no coward.  Let’s get that straight now.  He does have a burden.  But I can’t tell what it is.  Patient-doctor relationship.”

“Oh, Landon.”

One more poke, this one harder.  “That’s all.  No more questions.  My God, look at those caves on that hillside.  What in the name of all that’s holy have they done to my Vicksburg?”

(from My Vicksburg, pages 38-39)

Claire Louise Corbet is a 13-year-old girl living a relatively carefree existence in Vicksburg, Mississippi, when the Civil War comes to her doorstep.  Ann Rinaldi brings the 47-day siege of Vicksburg, which took place from May 18-July 4, 1863, to life through Claire Louise’s eyes in My Vicksburg.  The Civil War not only divided a nation, but it also divided families.  Claire Louise’s father is a doctor and a major in the Confederate army, and tensions arise when her older brother, Landon, also a doctor, joins the Union army.  Landon’s decision strains the father-son relationship, and it also prompts his girlfriend, Sarah, to chop her hair short, have an identifying mole removed, and join the Confederate army as a man.

When the Union begins shelling Vicksburg, her father goes off to treat the wounded, and Claire Louise, her mother, and little brother, James, take refuge in a cave that her father had carved out for them in the hillside.  Unlike other, less prestigious families, the Corbet’s cave has running water and many of the comforts of home.  Yet the people are only able to move about freely when the Union soldiers cease shelling at regular intervals to take their meals.

In My Vicksburg, Claire Louise learns just how divisive war can be when her brother comes home with a wounded Confederate soldier.  Robert is pained not just from his injury but also from a burden he carries — a burden that has left Landon unsure of what to do.  Should he tend to Robert, then allow him to go free?  Or should he turn him over to the authorities as a prisoner, which would save Landon’s career and reputation but mean almost certain death for Robert?  Claire Louise befriends the young man and decides that she must take matters into her own hands, even if it means jeopardizing her relationship with her brother.

Rinaldi has become my go-to author for Civil War fiction because even though her novels are geared toward younger readers, I find them informative and exciting.  Her heroines are always strong and full of spunk, and they are always conflicted, flawed, and most importantly, real.  Claire Louise, as the only daughter, is unsure of her place in the family and unsure of her father’s feelings for her.  She wants to do something for the war effort, something big that she can tell her grandchildren about someday, so she braves the bloodiness and sickness in a local hospital to pen letters for wounded soldiers.  She has a fierce love for her older brother, but is willing to put their relationship on the line to stand up for what she believes in her soul is right.

However, I think Rinaldi tends to gloss over the issue of slavery, at least in My Vicksburg.  Maybe she tackles it in another novel, and maybe she didn’t want to broach the subject in this book, but I think it does a disservice to her younger readers to only portray white characters who treat their slaves respectably.  I’m sure there may have been whites who didn’t mistreat their slaves, but they were still slave owners.  Yet at the same time, I understand that Rinaldi is telling the story from the point of a young girl whose family owns slaves and that this is how she perceives things.  Nevertheless, in My Vicksburg, the house slaves are called “servants,” but from references about how her father bought them, it’s obvious they are slaves, though younger readers might not pick up on that and think they are just hired help.  They also are portrayed as being happy to help, with one particular slave asking permission to take on a paying job in order to earn money to help Robert.  I don’t know whether such a thing happened during that time, but it just didn’t seem authentic to me.

Still, My Vicksburg shows the hardships that the people endured during the siege, mainly how the Union won the town by essentially starving its people, and even while devising ways for the Corbets to be well fed, Rinaldi emphasizes how their neighbors weren’t so lucky.  She also shows how the war pitted loved ones against one another and forced people of all ages to make difficult decisions.  Moreover, Rinaldi doesn’t sugarcoat the trials and horrors of war, understanding that younger readers can handle such truths.  Given that I know so little about the Civil War, I love how, even as an adult, I can identify with her characters and learn about the war in manageable chunks so as not to be overwhelmed.  Rinaldi includes an author’s note at the end to separate fact from fiction, which always give me a push to do more research.  You can bet I’ll be reading more of Rinaldi’s work in the near future.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon
Amelia’s War

Disclosure: I borrowed My Vicksburg from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“Anyway pal, I’ve never heard of a ghost in short pants.”

“Excuse me, there are lots of us.  Did they keep it a secret from you in the army?  The Holocaust?  Adolf Hitler — may he ch0ke forever on herring bones!  You didn’t hear he told his Nazi meshuggeners, those lunatics, ‘Soldiers of Germany, have some fun and go murder a million and a half Jewish kids?  All ages!  Babies, fine.  Girls with ribbons in their hair, why not?  Boys in short pants, like Avrom Amos Poliakov?  That’s me, and how do you do?  No, I wasn’t old enough for long pants.  Me, not yet a bar mitzvah boy when the long-nosed German SS officer shot me and left me in the street to bleed to death.  So, behold, you see a dybbuk in short pants, not yet thirteen but older’n God.”

(from The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, page 5)

Freddie T. Birch is a former sergeant in the U.S. Army, a bombardier during World War II, an orphan with nowhere to go after the war ends.  In 1948, when The Entertainer and the Dybbuk opens, Freddie is a ventriloquist doing shows across Europe and trying to scrape together a living.  After a show in Vienna, The Great Freddie returns to his hotel room to find a dybbuk, the glowing spirit of a Jewish boy killed during the Holocaust.  Avrom Amos Poliakov’s life was cut short before he had begun to live, and now he seeks revenge.

When the dybbuk asks Freddie if he can borrow his body, Freddie refuses, but he doesn’t stand a chance against the spirit, who is made strong by grief and hatred.  However, the two find that they need one another, especially Freddie, who is booed during his shows because he moves his lips when throwing his voice.  His act improves and generates much attention when the dybbuk supplies the voice of the dummy, but Freddie will receive more than a career boost from the dybbuk.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a short book for younger readers that aims to introduce them to the Holocaust through a boy with whom they can identify and a supernatural plot that will grab their attention from the first page.  Avrom once led a carefree life with his parents and his sister, but then he is forced to hide and run to avoid being captured by the Nazis.  Because he was gunned down before his bar mitzvah ceremony, he will be forever a child, and readers are forced to think about the future he could have had if the Nazis had not wanted Jews, young and old, to be eliminated.

I’m not sure about the author’s story, but Sid Fleischman obviously has been personally affected by the Holocaust.  Although the story is told simply and quickly for the benefit of younger readers, there is so much emotion and even bitterness in his words…and yet, it never feels too heavy to bear because of the little bits of humor he has the dybbuk add to the stage show, particularly jokes about the Nazis that are amusing and sad at the same time.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is a new type of Holocaust story for me; most of what I’ve read are memoirs or fictional accounts of survivors and how they move on, but I’ve never read one about a spirit focused on revenge.  The revenge aspect of the story raises some important questions, taking it beyond a novel for young readers.  When is revenge justified?  Is it ever?  One could say two wrongs don’t make a right, but when you stop and think — really think — about what they went through, how entire families were lost, how many futures were never realized, and how many survivors were unable to move on, is it justified then?

I found The Entertainer and the Dybbuk while perusing the YA section in my local library, and I was drawn to the creepy cover.  However, even though a spirit is the main focus of the novel, the book is not creepy at all.  I highly recommend it for readers of all ages because it is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Just think of all the discussions you could have with your children while teaching them about a period in history that should never be forgotten.

Disclosure: I borrowed The Entertainer and the Dybbuk from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Mama and I were Southerners, but not Rebels.  We were for the Union, but not the Yankees.  You have to be from Maryland to understand it.  Mrs. Gruber was a Rebel, but we were invited because she and Mama had always been friends.  We were all still neighbors who’d known each other forever, and nobody knew yet how to draw the lines. 

(from Amelia’s War, page 1)

When I discovered that Amelia’s War took place in Hagerstown, Maryland, during the Civil War I knew I had to read it.  First, I’ve lived in Maryland since 2001 but have yet to really explore the state’s rich Civil War history.  Second, I’ve actually been to Hagerstown, and even though I saw signs for the Antietam battlefield, I was clueless about the town’s history.  Also, since I don’t know a whole lot about the Civil War, I’ve found that Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction for young readers provides enough of a historical background without overwhelming me with information about the various battles.

Amelia’s War opens in August 1861 and is told from the first person point of view of 11-year-old Amelia Grafton, whose father is the town treasurer and runs a general store in town and whose grandmother works with the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.  After a young man entering the Confederate Army is shot to death in nearby Williamsport as he fled the farewell tea party attended by Amelia and her mother, Amelia tells what she saw to the owner of the Hagerstown Mail, and he writes a front-page editorial that points an angry finger at the Yankees.  The owner of the newspaper — who also is the father of Amelia’s close friend, Josh — is sent to prison because of his “Southern leanings,” which ultimately lead to the destruction of his printing press and his flight from town.  The whole incident makes Amelia feel awful.  She wanted to take a stand and do something for the war effort, but she didn’t want to leave Josh alone in the newspaper office fending for himself without a parent around to care for him.

Hagerstown is in a state of confusion.  While Maryland is officially part of the Union, its residents are divided on the matter, and some, like the Graftons, support the Union but realize that it’s not a black-and-white issue.  Amelia’s mother, for instance, will feed and bandage any soldier who needs help, whether Union or Confederate, but things get complicated when General Lee and his Rebel troops sweep into town, forcing Amelia’s father into hiding due to his Union sympathies, getting her younger brother, Sky, excited about the soldiers and the war, and angering her older brother, Wes, into action.

As the years of the war pass, Amelia sees the people around her taking part in the war effort, but she sits on the sidelines.  She has lots of opinions about the war and wants them to be valued even if she is a girl, but she refuses to take part in any war-related activity after what happened to Josh’s father and the role she played in the situation.  She sees Wes go to war, Josh print news stories to bring the truth to the people, her mother help the wounded, and Wes’s girlfriend, Jinny, outwardly oppose the presence of Lee’s troops in Hagerstown.  Amelia begins to wonder when it will become her war.

“You’re a woman, Jinny.  Nobody expects it of you.”

“I expect it of myself.  The war has hurt us bad.  My pa has to hide up in the mountain.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, I have to do something.  Sooner or later, we all have to.”  She stared at me with an unblinking gaze.

I flushed.  “I suppose you’re saying that on my account.  Because I haven’t made it my war.”

“Just saying it.  No cause to take on.  It isn’t your time yet, that’s all.”

“And what if I never think it’s my time?  What then?”

“It will be,” she said softly.  “When the time comes, you’ll know it.”  (page 133)

Rinaldi had me hooked from the first page.  She tends to write strong female characters who are flawed but have the right intentions, and that describes Amelia perfectly.  She’s got spunk, but she’s a little insecure about her place in the war.  And Rinaldi brings the Civil War to life, showing how chaotic it was to not know from one day to the next whether the town was under the control of the Union or the Confederacy and how neighbors turned on one another due to the politics of the war.  It’s hard for Amelia to ignore the war when the soldiers come marching in and gunfire and hand-to-hand combat occur in the town square; the war is literally on her doorstep.

Amelia’s War packs a lot of information into less than 300 pages, but Rinaldi is great when it comes to pacing the plot, generating tension, and doling out information without overwhelming readers — which is helpful because the book is geared toward 10- to 14-year-olds, but even adults like me who don’t know a lot about the war will be entertained and informed.  Rinaldi covers everything from the ransom of Hagerstown in July 1864, the plight of former slaves, how young women fought as soldiers, the harsh conditions endured by the worn-down soldiers, and women’s rights to the difficulty of staying neutral when war rages all around you and how important it is to stick by your friends even when you don’t see eye to eye on certain things like war.  An author’s note at the end of the book helps readers separate the fact from the fiction.

The Civil War not only divided the country, but it also divided the people, pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.  It affected both men and women, young and old.  Amelia’s War emphasizes that young people can make a big difference and that history is full of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.  Rinaldi takes these lessons and transforms them into a thought-provoking story that exemplifies middle-grade historical fiction at its finest.  Best of all, Rinaldi knows that younger readers want stories with some substance and that they can handle tough subjects like war, and she crafts them in a way that appeals to readers of all ages.

Check out my reviews of other books by Ann Rinaldi:

Juliet’s Moon

Disclosure: I borrowed Amelia’s War from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★ (the Minor Works overall)

This Prince [Henry the 5th] after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed & Amiable, forsaking all his dissipated Companions, & never thrashing Sir William again.  During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. 

(from The History of England in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works, page 139)

Part of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, The History of England is a short piece Austen wrote in 1791 when she was a teenager.  Its full title is The History of England from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st and is meant to be a parody of a 1771 work by Oliver Goldsmith, titled The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II.  You know right away that Austen isn’t writing a serious history, given that the work is “By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian.”

The more I stray from Austen’s novels to her earlier works, the more impressed I become with her as a writer.  The History of England really underscores her wit and humor and shows that she had the talent to captivate audiences at a very young age.  Her love of literature also shines through in that instead of backing up her history of the monarchs with the works of noted historians, she cites Shakespeare and other literary works.

Austen also pokes fun at the idea of historical bias, particularly how people remember what they want to remember and how the historian’s personal beliefs may play a role in how the past is perceived.  As in many of Austen’s novels, in which the narrator engages with readers, she puts herself and even her family and friends into her historical account and never hesitates to insert an opinion.

I cannot say much for this Monarch’s [Henry the 6th] Sense–Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian.  I suppose you know all about the Wars between him & The Duke of York who was of the right side; If you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, & shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, & not to give information.  (pages 139-140)

Not being very familiar with the English monarchy, many of the references made by Austen went right over my head.  Still, I was able to see what she was getting at and enjoy the humor in it.

The History of England is a must-read for Austen fans.  It spans only a handful of pages, and I read it in about 20 minutes during my lunch break.  It’s interesting to compare the writings of a teenage Austen with her more mature work, like Persuasion.  So far, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Austen, and it saddens me to think how much more she could have done with the written word had she lived longer.  (In a side note, yesterday, July 18, was the 194th anniversary of Austen’s death.)

Check out my reviews of other Jane Austen works:

Pride and Prejudice
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
Lady Susan
The Watsons
Sanditon
Love and Freindship

Disclosure: The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works is from my personal library.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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He paused for a few moments, motionless, and then began slamming the stone against the markings, harder and harder.  He beat the floorboards with such force that I thought he might break his hand.  I moved toward him.  Andrius stopped me.

“Let him do it,” he said.

I looked at him, uncertain.

“Better that he gets used to it,” he said.

Used to what, the feeling of uncontrolled anger?  Or a sadness so deep, like your very core has been hollowed out and fed back to you from a dirty bucket?

I looked at Andrius, his face still warped with bruising.  He saw me staring.  “Are you used to it?” I asked.

A muscle in his jaw twitched.  He pulled a cigarette butt from his pocket and lit it.  “Yeah,” he said, blowing a stream of smoke into the air.  “I’m used to it.”

(from Between Shades of Gray, page 72)

Only a cold-hearted person could read Between Shades of Gray without crying or feeling at the very least incredibly sad.  It’s hard to believe this is Ruta Sepetys’ first novel because her writing hits you in the gut and pulls at your heart over and over again, and she knows just how to pace a story and make her characters come to life.  The only downside to this book is that it ended before I was ready to say good-bye to the characters.

Between Shades of Gray draws attention to a little known event of World War II:  the Soviet invasion of Lithuania and the deportation or execution of Lithuanians deemed anti-Soviet.  The book is geared toward young adult readers, but adults will get swept away and fall in love with the characters, too.  In this novel based on her father’s family and survivors’ stories, Sepetys personalizes things by focusing on the Vilkas family:  15-year-old, Lina, 10-year-old Jonas, and their mother, Elena.  Lina’s father, a university provost, was arrested and sent to a prison camp.  In June 1941, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, arrest the rest of the Vilkas family and deport them to a labor camp (a collective farm) in Siberia.  Lina is a talented artist, and her hope is that she can use her art to depict their journey, pass these messages on to her father so her family can be reunited, and tell the world the truth about what happened to them.

The book is told from the first-person viewpoint of Lina, and the fact that she is in such cramped quarters with other deportees makes it possible for readers to really get to know the supporting characters.  From the generous, big-hearted Elena and the innocent Jonas to the strong Andrius and the cranky, whining, and dependent bald man, Sepetys shows how the deportations affected so many people.  Sepetys does a great job creating numerous well-rounded characters and showing their evolution, which can be difficult when the story is told through the eyes of a single character.

Between Shades of Gray is a coming-of-age story of sorts, with Lina imprisoned during her milestone 16th birthday.  I loved that despite all the hardships and horrors, Sepetys infuses her story with hope and love.  The people had so little, but most were willing to share and use their limited strength and resources to help the wounded, the sick, and the weak.  Rather than give up and die, these people persevered.  They celebrated holidays by sharing memories, and they channeled their anger into survival.  For Lina, her art is what keeps her sane amidst so much death and cruelty.

Most of all, I loved how Sepetys drew me into the story from the very beginning.  Her descriptions are so vivid that I could never forget how cold, hungry, dirty, and exhausted the deportees were, how they were forced to dig and farm for a little piece of bread and use scraps to build a shelter from the deadly snowstorms.  And even when portraying the evil NKVD commanders and guards, Sepetys underscores the fact that not every one was completely devoid of heart or soul; there are shades of gray in the world that can make navigating its people confusing.

Between Shades of Gray was sad and heartbreaking, but at the same time, I couldn’t put it down.  I finished this 344-page book in about a day.  When I wasn’t reading, the story and the characters were with me…and about a week after finishing the book, they still are.  I’ve read dozens of World War II books over the past couple of years, but none dealt with the Lithuanian deportations.  The thousands and thousands of deportees who survived were forced to keep the trials they endured at the hands of the NKVD a secret long after the war, given that Lithuania remained under Soviet control until the 1990s, but Between Shades of Gray gives them a voice and aims to ensure we never forget.

Disclosure: I borrowed Between Shades of Gray from my local library. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Long ago, I believed that, given a choice, people would turn to good as they would to the light.  I believed that reporting — honest, unflinching pictures of the truth — could be a beacon to lead us to demand that wrongs be righted, injustices punished, and the weak and the innocent cared for.  I must have believed, when I started out, that the shoulder of public opinion could be put up against the door of public indifference and would, when given the proper direction, shove it wide with the power of wanting to stand on the side of angels.

But I have covered far too many wars — reporting how they were seeded, nourished, and let sprout — to believe in angels anymore, or, for that matter, in a single beam of truth to shine into the dark.  Every story — love or war — is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right.

(from The Postmistress, page 3)

As I sit here hours after finishing The Postmistress, I am still weighed down by this beautifully written novel.  I had long wanted to read this book, but after reading so many mixed reviews, I was uncertain.  However, I brushed these concerns aside and soon found myself lost in this story of three women in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack that ensured the U.S. would actively fight in World War II.

Reading the cover blurb, one would assume The Postmistress is mostly about Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts, who handles all the messages into and out of the town and one day decides not to deliver a particular letter.  But this event really has little to do with the plot, and the star of the show is Frankie Bard, a young reporter from New York who is stationed in London and broadcasts with Edward R. Murrow in an effort to bring the war to the doorsteps of the American public.  And in this respect, she is a deliverer of news, just not a postmistress in the way one would expect.

Iris and Emma Fitch — the young doctor’s wife who is left alone when her husband feels compelled to go to London during the Blitz and offer his services — both are drawn to Frankie’s broadcasts.  Emma wants to know what happens to people after the war upends their lives, while Iris often turns the radio off when the sadness or power in Frankie’s voice is too much for her to bear.  Meanwhile, Frankie is determined to tell the stories of the Jews seeking to flee Europe, but after what she sees in France and Germany, she is unsure what to do with the voices she has recorded.

I was captivated by Sarah Blake’s prose from the very first page, and I was moved by the stories of all three women.  However, Frankie’s story was the most interesting and showed the most character development and evolution.  In fact, I think her story alone could have carried the novel.  Even though a good portion of the novel is devoted to Iris and Emma, I never really felt like they were the crux of the story, and the way in which the three women were brought together didn’t pack a punch like the scenes when Frankie is covering the war.  Still, I was able to go with the flow and finish the book feeling like I’d read something worthwhile.

The Postmistress is about war and how it affects ordinary people, both those caught within the fighting and those who believe the war will never reach their homes.  It’s also about delivering news and the juxtaposition between needing and wanting to tell the truth as it happens and needing and wanting to protect people from that same truth.  And like the characters within its pages, I was left wanting to know what happened on the edges of the story and afterward, yet satisfied with what I’d been given.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for The Postmistress.  To follow the tour click here.

Courtesy of the publisher, I’m giving away 1 copy of The Postmistress.  To enter, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and let me know why you want to read this book.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers only, and it will end at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, April 3, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Postmistress from Berkley/Penguin for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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It is getting harder to talk.  My throat is always sore, my lips raw.  When I wake up in the morning, my jaws are clenched so tight I have a headache.  Sometimes my mouth relaxes around Heather, if we’re alone.  Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.  What is wrong with me?  It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis.

I know my head isn’t screwed on straight.  I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy.  I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else.  There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the insides of my ribs.  Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me.  My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.

(from Speak, pages 50-51)

(I already knew what this book was about before picking it up, and it didn’t affect my reading at all.  It’s hard to discuss the important aspects of the book without giving away what happens to the main character.  It’s probably common knowledge, but I just wanted to warn you all up front.)

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Melinda Sordino begins her freshman year of high school — a confusing and scary time for teenagers — as an outcast.  After being raped at an end-0f-summer party, Melinda calls the police, and not knowing what happened, her friends and other students are mad at her for breaking up the party and causing some of them to be arrested.  Not sure how to deal with the rape, Melinda turns inward and stops speaking unless absolutely necessary.  It’s an easy thing to do since no one in school is talking to her anyway — unless you count the new girl, Heather, who sees Melinda as someone to hang out with while she searches for the right clique — and her parents are pre-occupied with work and maybe some marital problems.

Melinda understandably becomes depressed.  Her grades plummet, she skips class, and she gets in trouble with teachers.  She carves out a private space in an old janitor’s closet, which further highlights her withdrawal from the world.  Her only refuge is art class, where Mr. Freeman (appropriately named) recognizes Melinda’s talent and encourages her to express herself.

Her parents’ reaction to these changes is especially sad.  They see their daughter go from having good grades to failing her classes, and one would assume they would notice that she no longer has friends.  Not to mention the fact that she no longer speaks.  Rather than reach out to Melinda, her mother says she doesn’t have time for this.  Her parents are concerned to a point, but it felt more like annoyance and exasperation to me, though that might be Melinda’s perceptions.

Written in the first person, Speak allows readers to feel Melinda’s pain, her struggle between the part of her who wants to wallow in sorrow and the part of her who wants to live again, and the intense fear when she encounters “IT’ in the hallways or around town. Speak has been banned because it’s about a teenage rape victim.  I can understand that such a topic may make parents uncomfortable, but we have to accept the ugly fact that Melinda may be fictional but her story rings true to many young girls.  Anderson does not write the rape scene in a graphic manner, managing to pack a punch in a very short paragraph with little description.

Why would people want to pull from the shelves a book that could empower a girl in Melinda’s situation, give her some comfort, encourage her to tell someone about her pain, and seek help?  I understand the need to shelter our daughters and sons from the hurts of the world as much as we can, but censorship does not accomplish that.  Speak should be used to start a dialogue with teens, and you can be sure I will recommend it to my daughter when she’s a bit older.

Disclosure: I borrowed Speak from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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They were born twenty minutes apart and had the same ginger hair and green-gray eyes, though Anna’s were greener.  Anna’s hair fell in natural curls, Katherine’s in the sort of waves that had to be improved by the J.D. Oppenheimer curling tube.  Still, as they got older, Katherine put herself on guard, made herself responsible for interrupting Anna’s drift toward the perilous, for fixing the fences and defining the borders, the edges, the ends.  Anna listened to Katherine when it was important, because Katherine’s talent had never been beauty; it was saving, rescue.

(from Dangerous Neighbors, page 17 in the ARC)

When I borrowed Dangerous Neighbors from Serena, I was so excited because I was finally going to read Beth Kephart, an author whose work I’ve seen praised across the blogs.  Maybe my expectations were too high; I really wanted to love this book, but I finished it feeling like it was only okay.  It took me a few days to finish a book that should have taken me a single work commute, and the entire time I was reading, I kept wondering when the story was going to blow me away.

Dangerous Neighbors is the story of 17-year-old twins Katherine and Anna, and Kephart tells the story from the point of view of a grieving Katherine.  Anna’s romance with the baker’s son, Bennett, and her accidental death are detailed in flashbacks, while Katherine tries to gather the courage to end her life.  Kephart’s poetic prose is beautiful, and to be honest, the only reason why I stuck with the book until the end.  This young adult novel is set in Philadelphia in 1876 during the Centennial fair, and Kephart really brings this setting to life.  She beautifully describes the Shantytown fire, uses the twins’ mother to highlight some feminist issues, and puts readers right in the chaos of the main exhibition building.

I understood Katherine’s grief and how lost she was after Anna’s death.  She put herself in charge of Anna, always watching over her, and she didn’t know what to do without her.  Her whole existence depended on her sister.  I also understood how she would feel slighted when Anna fell in love; she’s a teenager, and I remember not wanting to be left behind when my close friends had boyfriends and I didn’t.  However, Katherine struck me as melodramatic and even slightly annoying — with regard to Anna’s relationship with Bennett, not her death — and I just didn’t care for her.  Moreover, I just didn’t buy the ending.  A very intriguing character was quickly introduced toward the end, and because this character plays a major role in the outcome of the novel, I felt cheated that I didn’t get to know this character at all.

Even though Dangerous Neighbors was just an okay read for me, I can see why readers praise Kephart’s writing.  I really want to give this author another try, so if you have a favorite Kephart book that you think I should read, please let me know in the comments.

Disclosure: I borrowed Dangerous Neighbors from a friend. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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