Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda, by Elisabeth Combres

August 17, 2010

Rating: 3.5/5

Broken Memory is a story of a girl who survives her mother’s murder during the Rwandan 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people. She has no dreams, no ambitions, and no interest in her future. She has only one goal in mind: to fulfill her mother’s last wish…

“You must live, Emma.”

When I sat down to read this book, I braced myself for the horrors of genocide.

What I found was simple and thought-provoking.

This is not an in-depth look at a young survivor’s life or a detailed account of the horrors of genocide; it is a series of events that lead the character to catharsis and leave the reader with…an impression. A broken image.

It’s up to the reader to pick up the pieces and consider what makes us human and what can turn us into monsters.

It is a tiny book with barely a pause for characterization, where Emma’s story is quickly narrated and we are carried down a stream of words watching images of the old woman who takes pity on Emma and keeps her despite the danger to her life; of the gossiping women in the village who don’t like the sight of her; of the boy whose spirit and body have been broken but who she cannot help but befriend; of the old man who has suffered more than she thought anyone could bear; of the trials of murderers; and her journey back to her mother’s home.

While I want to give this book a high rating, its lack of characterization, its rushed prose and anticlimactic epilogue prohibit me from doing so. However, despite its shortcomings, it addresses an important part of history, and its fast pace will likely be appealing to many reluctant readers.

__________________________________________________________

Broken Memory won the Prix Nouvelle Revue Pédagogique and the Prix des lycéens allemands, where German high school students select their favorite book.

Broken Memory is part of the 2010 National Books for a Global Society’s list of outstanding K-12 multicultural literature.

__________________________________________________________

RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader or check out the sidebar for more options


Parvana’s Journey, by Deborah Ellis

September 2, 2009

Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

Awards: Jane Adams Award; The Canada Council Governor General’s Literary Award

In Parvana’s journey we meet a young girl in Afghanistan who has just lost her father and goes on a journey to find the rest of her family. She dresses as a boy to avoid persecution from the Taliban, but even that is not enough to guarantee her safety, as everyone around her is desperate and would not think twice about selling a young “boy” to gain enough money for food for their families. Trusting no one, she travels the dangerous desert and finds a starving toddler, a girl who believes the earth magically protects her from harm, and a severely brutalized boy with an amputated leg.

Parvana’s Journey is the sequel to The Breadwinner, where Parvana’s descent into poverty and despair begins. However, this book stands on its own and it’s a worthwhile read.

The author does a beautiful job of creating rounded characters that many children around the world can relate to. Parvana is kindhearted and full of dreams, but despair and hopelessness slowly eats away at her. The narrative hints that she would have lost her mind had she not found and rescued the other children but, even then, it is hard for her to hold on to her sanity.

Though reality is presented in all its harshness, (worm-infested sores and all), there is always at least an inch of hope that is passed from one character to another: hope of survival, hope of a warm meal and hope of finding Parvana’s family. This is one of those stories that tugs at your heart and will always stay there. I applaud this author’s efforts to foster awareness of what is happening to women and children in war-torn Afghanistan and showing through literature that we are all human.

I especially love the note in the back cover: For mature children.

__________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader or check out the sidebar for more options


Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, by Sundee T. Frazier

August 21, 2009

Rating: 5/5

Rating: 5/5

Award: Coretta Scott King Award

Brendan Buckley is a character you don’t want to miss. He is a ten year old Tae Kwon Do blue belt with a penchant for rocks and science. He keeps a list of confidential, top-secret questions and scientific discoveries in a notebook he carries with him so he doesn’t forget to write things down.

Having recently lost his grandfather, Brendan becomes curious about the other grandfather he’s never seen. All he knows is what his mother told him: he’s not dead, but he’s gone. Then one day, on a boring trip to the mall with his witty grandmother, he meets Ed DeBose: mineral expert, president of the area’s rock club…and Brendan’s grandfather! He is forbidden to speak of the incident, but Brendan disobeys and tries to establish a relationship with his estranged grandfather.

He is a curious, loving, highly intelligent boy that had never struggled with his biracial identity until he meets Ed DeBose. Brendan writes new questions in his notebook, such as: “What makes white people be mean to black people?” and slowly comes to realize that there are some questions in life that cannot be answered scientifically.

Though the author addresses serious topics such as racism, prejudice and discrimination, the tone is light and she delivers the message without sending the reader into an emotional tailspin (though I must admit I cried in the end, but I can’t say why! Read it. Trust me, it’s worth it).  There is a good dose of humor to keep the reader interested and turning the pages to see what new discoveries await Brendan.

This book deserves a 5/5 rating for its balance of serious topics and humor, complex characters, and realistic ending. It should be on every teacher’s bookshelf.

__________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader or check out the sidebar for more options


The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman and Ill. Dave Mckean

July 29, 2009

Rating: 4/5

Rating: 4/5

Award: Newbery Medal, 2009

Yet another Gaiman story that I liked well enough, but did not love. It is much better than Interworld, but there are some loose ends and scenes that fell flat towards the end of the story that keep it from being one of my favorites.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of a little boy who escapes being murdered by a mysterious man Jack. He is rescued and raised by a ghost couple in a nearby graveyard and has a guardian who is just as mysterious as Jack, perhaps more so. As Nobody “Bod” Owens grows up, the man Jack gets closer to finding him, still seeking his death at any cost.

The premise of a boy being raised in a graveyard to escape certain death is a good one and the book delves deeply into a magical world, where a boy comes to learn what it means to grow up, face your fears and step out into the world. The reader is taken on a journey with Bod from his early childhood to his teenage years as he learns about the past, the present, and future possibilities. We see the changes in him from a curious, adventurous child, to a young man with an inquisitive mind who wants to know more about the world.

For answers, he always turns to his guardian, Silas, who always succinctly tells him the truth, no matter how much it may hurt. Unfortunately, we never really get to know much about Silas, who is a fascinating character, which is part of the reason this book did not reach that “love” status from me.

Another aspect of the story is that two major events (one with his only living friend and one with his teacher) are rushed and Bod’s reactions are lacking realism. I won’t say much more since I do not want to spoil the story for you, but what happened should have had much more of an impact and played more of a part towards the very end of the book.

This is one of those books that you really have to pick up and read to find out if you would like it. Do I recommend the book? Absolutely, I think it is a worthwhile read! Do I recommended it to anyone who likes a good story? Yes, but reluctant readers will probably have a hard time sinking their teeth into this one, since the narrative demands the reader make inferences and pay careful attention to descriptions.

___________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader or check out the sidebar for more options


Joey Pigza Loses Control, by Jack Gantos

July 20, 2009
Joey Pigza Loses Control

Rating: 5/5

Awards: New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year; ALA Notable Children’s Book; Newbery Honor Book

I love this book. I adore this book. I am buying the rest of the Joey Pigza books! I could ramble on and on about this story, but I’ll try to keep it short.

Joey Pigza is a little boy who suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD. Thanks to his time with his special ed. teacher, his caring mother and his new and improved medication, he can now make better decisions that will not get him, or others, into trouble. Now his wish is to become a “normal” boy and to help his mom and dad get together again. When summertime comes along, his mom reluctantly lets him spend time with his estranged father, who is like him but bigger. Joey wants the summer to be perfect, but when his father decides that the perfect gift for his son is to flush his meds down the toilet, Joey fights to stay in control.

This story provides a realistic insight into the life of one little boy with ADHD who drives everyone around him crazy. He’s a good kid with a real problem that does not let him think things through, focus, or make good decisions. Think of a remote control always stuck on “next”. The mind simply is not able to focus on one channel for a long period of time. At first, Joey is on his meds and in control, like a “normal” boy. Then “normal” Joey slowly becomes “wired” Joey and out of control.

The book is written from Joey’s point of view and the reader feels an instant connection with this screwed up, loving boy. Though the story has the possibility of being too sad, the author pulls the reader away from depression with just enough humor to encourage continued reading. The reader can both laugh at, relate to, and consider Joey’s life with an estranged criminal/alcoholic father and his ADHD.

You will laugh out loud, you will be shocked, you will worry, but most of all, you will find hope between every page of this book. If there is a reluctant reader in your life, (especially a boy), this is a book that he/she cannot miss.
__________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader or check out the sidebar for more options


A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck

July 15, 2009
Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

Awards: Newberry Honor Book of 1999; ALA Best Book for Young Adults

In this story for children ages 9-12, a brother and sister living in the Great Depression era are forced to spend time with their seemingly bitter, yet larger than life grandmother in a small town where anything can happen.  The story is funny and full of unexpected adventures, where each chapter is a stand-alone episode.

Grandma Dowdel is not your stereotypical grandmother. She lies, cheats, is handy with a rifle and cares deeply about her town. Readers who are close to their grandmothers and/or have a grandmother that is like the one in this book might enjoy this look into the life of Joey and his sister as they get to know the real Mrs. Dowdel.  From shooting at a dead man and putting a nearly decapitated rat into a bottle of milk, Grandmother Dowdel’s exploits will remain unforgettable.

Though the grandmother’s antics are certainly humorous, sometimes gross and always memorable, the story lacks dialogue, which could turn off some readers. However, each chapter stands alone, which appeals to readers who find it difficult to sit through a full-length book.

Though the grandmother is central to this story, readers could also relate to Joey. He loves cars, airplanes and experiences growing pains that are common for most boys such as: feelings of abandonment; city life vs. small town life; right vs. wrong; growing acknowledgment and confusion towards the opposite sex; and death.

I loved reading this story. It’s one of those books that are great for when you are feeling nostalgic or just want a good laugh.

__________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader


Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan

June 20, 2009

Becoming Naomi LeonAwards: Pura Belpre Award; Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; Americas Award Honor Book; Judy Lopez Memorial Award; ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults; New York Public library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing; Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year; IRA Notable Book for a Global Society; NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; Jefferson Cup Award—Worthy of Note; Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Can you believe the list of awards for this title? I had heard of this book a few years ago but never had the opportunity (or motivation, unfortunately) to pick it up. Now that I did, I regret not having read it earlier.

Naomi and her brother Owen (who is handicapped), have lived with their great grandmother since they were very young. Always curious about the mother who abandoned them, but nevertheless happy with their Gram, they love their experiences in Lemon Tree Trailer Park. That is, until one day their mother shows up and it becomes painfully obvious that she is there to take Naomi away from her family so she can babysit her new stepsister.  Desperate to find a way to avoid separation from her brother and Gram, the family and a couple of neighbors set out on a journey to Mexico, where Naomi’s father works as a fisherman and expert wood/soap carver.

My favorite part of the book, by far, is when Naomi visits Mexico. There are no ridiculous stereotypes so many people are used to, just everyday life in Oaxaca, where people are fond of traditions and strive to provide for their families. Highlighted is the yearly festival de los rabanos, a festival where carvers all over Mexico present their carvings on radishes.

This is a believable story about a broken family that manages to find hope in the smallest of places. It is about finding your own voice and defending what you believe in. Hope, in the end, is what makes a great children’s/young adult book.

__________________________________________________________
RSS Feed
Like this blog?
Click here to subscribe to this feed in any reader


%d bloggers like this: