The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit is a teenager living on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington, where everyone calls him Junior.  As a baby, he was hydrocephalic, which caused seizures, poor vision, and a perception from his peers that he was different.  Most of the others on the rez picked on him, except his family, and his closest friend, Rowdy.  Rowdy was a tough guy and would fight anybody over anything, especially anyone who got too rough with Junior.

Beginning high school at the rez became a turning point for Junior.  He got upset that the textbooks were so old his mom’s name was in them.  He was suspended for throwing the book, which hit the teacher, Mr. P.  During his suspension, Mr. P visited Junior and convinced him to get his education off the reservation.

Most of the Indians picked on Junior because he was different, now they picked on him because he was a traitor for leaving the rez.

Reardon was Junior’s new school, it was twenty miles from the rez.  Sometimes his dad was sober enough to drop him off and pick him up, but every once in a while, Junior had to walk. He was the only Indian at the white school, and it was a rough start for him.   He was half white at the rez, and half indian at the school.  It took some time but Junior found his place, realizing he was as smart and athletic as anybody at Reardon.  While finding himself there, he also lost some close friends and family back home.  Rowdy believed he was a traitor and went for blood during the high school basketball game. Alcohol was also a major contributor to the losses at the rez.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the character’s in NS Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which focuses on an American Indian’s struggle with modernization- living in the white world. It is a struggle between balancing everything your family knows and has held on to for centuries, or going out on your own to find a better life.  A struggle of honoring your ancestors to keep the culture alive or turning your back on them to leave the rez. It is a tough battle, and many on the rez don’t fight it.  They stay and become prisoners there.

Veronica Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

As morbid and depressing as the title seems, this Coelho book takes the usual turn for understanding of the universe and an inspiration for readers to strive not to settle into the kind of routine they don’t wish to be in.  Coelho’s books have been NY Times Best Sellers and translated into dozens of languages, he’s one of the top selling modern authors.  It just takes one book to understand why, and this book certainly fits into that category.

Veronica is a young woman with a happy life.  She has loving parents and a nice job.  She lives in Ljubljana, the capital city of the newly formed country of Slovenia (after the Yugoslavian civil war). With as many positives points in her life, Veronica found nearly as much sadness.  She believed the routine of her life was inconsequential and secretly vowed to kill herself to leave the world behind.  After feigning sleeplessness, she collected strong sleeping pills and went about the deed.  She slowly fell into a drowsy state, but the peaceful death was not coming, a burning throughout her body led her into a coma and she woke in the infamous Villette hospital for the mentally insane.  Upon waking, the doctor told the girl she would survive, but her heart had taken the toll from the suicide attempt.  The state her heart was in, she could expect a week of life before she succumbed to the death she had wished for.

Not to give too much away, Veronica reluctantly made friends, and rediscovered her passion for the piano.  In fact, her piano playing was said to lift many spirits in the gloomy hospital.  With a week left to live, what would you do? Veronica searched her soul and others joined.  Her weak heart pushed the limits and she found herself having heart-attacks through the week.

In a previous interview, Coelho explained his need to write this book.  He had been put into a mental asylum himself as a young man. Coelho even modeled a character in the book after himself. His parents expected him to become an engineer, but his thirst for writing could not allow him to complete the studies the family expected of him.  He made his way out and the rest is history.

Whether you’re feeling ‘in a rut’ or just enjoy Coelho’s books, this is a good read.  Coelho never lets you down. Enjoy.

 

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is another great fantasy work, focusing on a fair mixture of science and religion.  L’Engle explores topics which focus on ideas that young adults can struggle with on their way to adulthood.

Meg Murray is a young teen who struggles a lot with school, many of her classmates consider her an idiot, but when it comes down to it, she does very well at math and science (with two scientists as parents, it’s easy to see why).  Her father has been missing for a couple of years after leaving on a science mission with the government. Her mother continues her chemistry experiments at home, patiently awaiting her husband’s return.  Meg also has younger twin brothers who do fair in school, get along well with their peers, and they have a hard time understanding why it’s all so difficult for Meg.  The youngest member of the Murray family is Charles Wallace.  He was late in developing speech, and many people in their town believed he would be dumb, but he was actually very mature for his age of five, and he had a very impressive vocabulary, along with a nearly sixth-sense of mind reading as he always knew what Meg was thinking.

As Meg and Charles Wallace were walking through the woods to their new neighbor’s home, they befriended Calvin, an older boy who was a star athlete and student.  Calvin also had some extra perception capabilities, like Charles Wallace.  Together, they met the ‘witch’ neighbors and were soon whisked away to find their father who was on a distant planet, trying to save the universe from an evil darkness that was taking over stars and planets.  Mr. Murray was not the first to battle evil, as the witches explained, others like Jesus, the Buddha, and famous artists and scientists also had fought against the evil forces.

As the book explains, they use a form of travel called ‘tessering’ which gets them from planet to planet and into other galaxies in the universe.  Soon, they land on the target planet, Camazotz, where they found a society that was completely conformed to do every task at the same time and citizens were exterminated or retrained when they ‘fell out of line’ or caught an illness. Charles Wallace in his naivety, decided to challenge the man who was explaining the order and conformity to the group, and he became hypnotized.  The new Charles Wallace led the other two children their father and Meg used a special gift to free him.  Together, Charles Wallace then led the crew to ‘IT’ to try to have them hypnotized and join the society as well, he was a completely different and untrustworthy person at that point. Mr. Murray tessered Meg and Calvin to another planet to escape, leaving little Charles Wallace to IT.

The group had tessered to another planet in Camazotz’ solar system and there Meg was nursed to health and found a true belief and good and love and is sent back to Camazotz to use her love to untrap Charles Wallace and return home.  The conformity of Camazotz and IT were essentially short circuited by this emotion as they left little free will or capability of truly understanding love.

As mentioned before, important topics in the book focused on young adults gaining a better understanding of the world.  L’Engle emphasized the importance of the perseverance of good over evil frequently in the book.  She also stressed the fight against conformity and importance of free will as the children explored Camazotz.

This was a fun and quick read.  I generally enjoy sci-fi, and those of course were my favorite parts of this book.  I liked how they explained ‘tessering’ and traveling at hyperspeed.  L’Engle did a great job of describing the emotions and physical feeling of tessering through Meg’s character.

Quick amateur sketch of my thoughts of A Wrinkle in Time: (Kids skipping rope and bouncing balls with a conformed rhythm, boy on end is out of sync, mothers leaning out of houses to call the kids in all at the same time while Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin watch. Evil darkness rising behind the houses.)

WrinkleSketch.jpg

Rating: ********8/10

Chain Reaction – Simone Elkeles

A third in the ‘Perfect Chemistry’ series, Chain Reaction is a YA novel that follows the story of Luis Fuentes and Nikki Cruz as they fall in love in Chicago.  The previous two books, Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction, follow Luis’ older brothers Alex and Carlos as they deal with love and gang alliances as young adults.

Luis enters high school and meets Nikki, he knows she’s something he needs in his life. They are from different neighborhoods and have very different lives.  Nikki is from an affluent family with parents who care about appearances and reputations.  Luis is from the rougher side of town, both of his brothers were previously involved with gangs and push him to stay on the straight and narrow.  Luis knows something is going on with the gangs and he wants to have a chance to take them down once and for all to end their association with his family.  Nikki is drawn to Luis but is very hesitant because she fell in love and had a miscarriage with another guy who ended up joining the gang and neglecting her.

As the story builds, Luis is forced by the gang leader to be more and more involved.  One one hand, he knows this will get him closer to bringing them down, but on the other hand, he knows Nikki will have nothing to do with him if he’s a banger.

Okay, it’s mush, but admittedly, it was a fun read, as were the others in this series.  I liked how the novels are set in alternating chapters as both main characters tell their side of the story.  It has the love for the girls and gangs for the boys so even though it’s a love story, I have male students that enjoy reading these books.

Rating:******* 7/10