Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fruits Basket

Most of you have probably heard of the popular Japanese manga series Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. If you haven't read this series before, you must. It is a beautifully written series that keeps you hanging on and wanting to know what happens next. By the end of the 23 volumes, you feel like you are part of their world, that you have gone through what they went through, and were with them every step of the way. The character development is amazing. Takaya really takes the characters to a very deep point and you feel their pain. I had read other manga graphic novels before but none have been like this one.
The picture above (is actually from the TV series that was made) has the very main characters. There are a lot of characters in this series, but I thought that these were the most important: (left to right) Shigure Sohma, Yuki Sohma, Tohru Honda and Kyo Sohma.

After Tohru's mother died, she was supposed to go live with her grandfather, but when he begins to remodel his house, she is forced to find somewhere else to live. She doesn't want to bother her friends with her troubles, so she decides to live in a tent in the woods.
One day on her way to school she finds a mysterious house belonging to Yuki Sohma, the most popular boy at school. The Sohma's are facinated by her and her love for the zodiac as well as the cat in the old zodiac tale, and offer their home as a place for her to stay. Tohru soon finds out that her housemates Shigure, Yuki and Kyo are all under a zodiac curse that when they hug someone of the opposite gender, they turn in to the animal that their spirit is cursed with. Shigure's the dog, Yuki is the rat, and Kyo is the cat. The cat has never belonged which Tohru has always felt sad about.
As her adventure with the Sohma's continue, she will meet the rest of the zodiac and learn more and more about the terrible curse they have as well as the strange leader of the Sohma family Akito. Tohru will have to help them find a way to break the curse.

I thought that this series was phenomenal and I hope that you will too!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

the summer of hammers and angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky

"'...My heavens, such a fuss over a broken leg. If you ask me, everyone's making a mountain out of a molehill. When I was a girl, every kid in school had a cast on an arm or aleg at some point. Tommy will be home soon. Your mama too. The world will right itself in no time.'

'How do you know?' I asked, my voice sharp. 'How do you know everything will work out right?'

Miss Martha looked directly into my eyes. 'I don't.'

'What?' My heart skipped a beat.

'I don't know for sure,' said Miss Martha. 'But I believe it will.'

'How long do you need to believe?'

Miss Martha stared out the window over the sink. 'As long as it takes.'"

I loved Wiersbitzky's first novel. There is a gentle pace to the text that kept me tethered to her words, to her storyline, and to the characters. Especially Delia, the main character, who has some life cards stacked against her from the start. But like most hard things in life, softening helps. When being forced to figure out what to do with an almost condemned house while her mom is in the hospital in a coma from being struck by lightning, Delia finds her way to asking for help, starting with trusted friends and growing to a much larger group by the end of the book. The way she asks is unique and gentle, and as I read, I could imagine a young teen doing just what she did.

There is something I always appreciate about middle-level novels: the books hold real-life tensions but the storyline usually ends hopefully. I also love how the tensions have to be simple to connect with, and this one certainly was for me. Finally I love the phrases. Authors who write for the young adult and juvenile groups know they have to catch their audience in the first paragraph of the book and hold them, and this book does just that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

I always love stumbling across books in the library. Here is a phenomenal wordless picture book that rises to the top of my current list of favs.

Written from dual perspectives, Jeannie Baker's Mirror is a treat of a read. The pictures take the reader through the lives of two families, one in Australia and one in Morocco, North Africa. The author's intention was to frame the differences and the similarities of the two living patterns of the families, albeit in such dramatically different places. But there is more here, much more that the readers are welcomed into experiencing.

From the start, the reader knows this is a different book. When I open this book, I immediately notice two books: one on the left and one on the right, with the left side pages turning open to my left, and the right side pages opening to my right. Ohh, masterful! But get this: the left side words, the words on the left side are written in English, and the words on the right side are written in Arabic. These are almost the only words in the book, but the author's framing here at the beginning so impacted how I viewed this book. Still, four reads later, when I open the book, my eyes widen when the words come into my view. Seriously.

Opening the books, one finds the cover pages, one in English and one in Arabic. Turning to the first pages of each book, meant to be read simultaneously, shows the collages of pictures that tell the story. Each one is gorgeous, inviting the reader to peer more deeply into the details captured in each illustration. One little surprise for me was learning how Arabic is written right to left, and in turn, how this book offers young (and older, at least for me!) readers new understandings in how books are read by another culture, this one in Morocco.

See, you just have to go find this book. I am stunned by it. The story-- oh, that has its own sweet surprises!-- is solid, the  cover beautiful, the framing authentic. What is there not to appreciate about this work of art?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Out of Shadows

I love, love, love finding brand new books that captivate me; my excitement level rises even greater (four "loves"?) when the book is from a new author. Ready to head out to your local library or bookstore yet? Trust me: you just might be soon.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief writes the only recommendation on the front or back cover. While the cover didn't captivate me, his words did: "Honest, brave, and devastating--more than just memorable. It's impossible to look away." Since I found The Book Thief to be starkly difficult and glaringly consuming as a read, I guessed that following Zusak's recommendation would serve me well. I was right, but greater, so was he.

This is a devastating read. The premise holds solid merit but the writing technique that Wallace uses made my mind hear a running dialogue with Robert, the main character, constantly. I wanted to hear what his brain was thinking in his days and nights of high school. Often in books like these, where the underdog gets smacked down for awhile and then joins in the smacking, I notice my hope for redemption diminish. With Robert, I was keenly aware of both compassion and disgust in his choices. Greater I thought about what I would do in his situation. While I wouldn't have made some of the same choices during much of the text, I applauded the ending, admiring Robert's resilience and determination, his utterly clear decision making, and his stoic if painful thought- processing. Of course I was a gigantic fan of Weekend, the phone operator for the village where Robert attends school in Zimbabwe, a gentle man who carries the truth of being as a source of glowing and hopeful light for all who encounter him and becomes a touchstone of truth for Robert. Conversely I grew to shudder whenever the antagonist Ivan entered the pages, from the beginning of the book to the very last word. The book is set in the mid-'80's when Mugabe is president, causing the escalation of long-simmering political and cultural tensions and hatred to boil over in a multitude of ways. It must have been an awful time to live there for blacks and white Zimbabweans.

This is a harsh read in which Wallace pulls no punches. Readers will encounter utterly ugly racism, wicked, brutal attacks, and Hitler-like hatred throughout the book. It is a painful read, where one witnesses bullying in impossible and true patterns. The spirit of resilience shares a fine if difficult to grab light here, but it is almost tangible nonetheless. Maybe it is the almost that kept me reading-- I still don't know. This is a YA book, but readers must know it is gruesome and painful to journey through it. I learned more about the dire and tragic pain of Zimbabwe in a direct and meaningful way, and the questions that rose repeatedly through my reading will likely create some significant web searches to expand my knowledge of that conflict found in Zimbabwe then. I know I will be on the lookout for new writings by Wallace: his form of writing captures my inner resources in an important way for me.

At the end of a staggeringly difficult conversation with my mother in my early adult life, she reminded me how in spite of my bad experiences, there are good men in the world. Wallace brings that truth to life in Out of Shadows. We all live through tremendous trials in life, but finding our own way to soften our inner blame and lift up what serves the world helps shine light on our humanity and vulnerability and helps us find community in the harsh moments of our isolation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Help

The Help was one of the best books that i have read this year. There is nothing you can't learn from this book about equality. I thought that it took me back to the 60's and really showed me how life has changed since then and what it was like. It dealt with a lot of hard subjects that aren't talked about much anymore or that people didn't know anything about then thus leading to the bad situation. I thought this was an extremely well written book being from the point of three people two of which were in the dialect of the African Americans at the time.

She has been "The Help" her whole life, always moving on after the child has turned nine or so and starts to realize the color difference they share. Abilene is starting to realize that even though she raises the white children until they don't need her anymore, it doesn't matter because they always realize in the end that she is nothing more then the woman who took care of them.
Now she's working for Mrs.Leefolt who is possibly the worst mother she has ever known. She pays absolutely no attention to her daughter Mae Mobley who is starving for attention. She realizes that if she doesn't start changing things that Mae Molbey will end up the same way as all the others. And then there's Mrs. Leefolt. She is obsessed with Hilly Holbrok. Nothing else matters except pleasing Hilly. She is like a goddess to all the other white women in the town and if your her friend, you are in and everyone else is a loser or has something not right about them and Abilene can't stand her. Especially after she hears that Hilly is planning on passing a law that every white house must have a separate toilet for the help due to all the "diseases" that "they" carry in their urine. So when Miss Skeeter tells Abilene her idea,she realizes that she might just have to do this.

Ever since she was a little girl she has know how to be a white woman's maid. It was her future. There was never a question that there would be a different one. At the moment Minny hates her job. But more then that, she hates Hilly Holbrok. How could a woman have the nerve to pass that around about her? Of course Minny could ask the same thing about her self. She has always had sass but never has she ever done something so terrible to anyone before. She is grateful that Abilene is trying to help her find one because thanks to Hilly Holbrok she can't get one. And that when she meets Mrs. Celia who doesn't seem to see the lines that clearly separate them. Minny begins to realize that even though Mrs. Celia is the social outcast of Jackson, Mississippi she may just be the only sane one there. She begins to consider Miss Skeeters idea.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan:
Skeeter is having a hard time understanding what happened to Constantine, the woman who practically raised her. Where did she go? Skeeter got home from Ole' Miss and she was just...gone. No one will tell her anything except: she moved to Tennessee. What was in Tennessee? Why couldn't she have at least said goodbye? She was more of a mother then her real mother. The world doesn't feel as right as it used too. Skeeter is starting to see the faults Jackson has not only in the laws but in the people. Like her best friend Hilly Holbrok. Why was she trying to pass this silly law about having segregated bathrooms in your house. YOUR HOUSE! wasn't there already enough segregation? All Skeeter has ever wanted to be was a writer. She was never sure what kind but now she is almost sure of it. After meeting Abilene through her best friend Elizabeth Leefolt and hearing about how Abilene's son had written a book on what it was like to be a black man in Mississippi before he died, she thinks about how maybe that is what she should be writing about now. Focusing on how "the help" is treated. It could be a best seller.

The Help:
Miss Skeeter, Abilene, Minny and many others will find their way in this amazing story about life.

I recommend this book strongly. I thought that the story was phenomenal and would read it over many times. If you want a ground breaking book, this is your top pick.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brother to a Dragonfly

Will Campbell was a new author to me. A friend had recommended I read this book long ago. In a conversation over dinner at our house one night, he started talking about this fellow preacher whom he had worked with long ago on civil rights issues in the South. This friend made it sound like an every day occurrence to spend time exploring civil rights down there, like it was just what you did. Since I was born in the '60's, my Civil Rights knowledge centers on book learning and my own adult explorations, and less on sitting on someone's back porch devising creative ways to fight discrimination nonviolently amidst some of the thickest KKK lands in the South. Ahem. I knew this book would give me a little more insight but not necessarily how much.

What I appreciated the most about this text is the voice: Campbell's writing sounds just like he is telling the story, from childhood to the death of his brother later in their adult lives. It is through his words that I came to identify the daily swept yard area between the house and the field, the deep, abiding love of a brother, and the trials and actions of a preacher who finds his own way of holding compassion for both the African Americans and the members of the KKK. His story weaves through the young brothers' early lives, when the boys learned about death the natural way of seeing a dead neighbor's body. It ties in transitions, like college and the Civilian Conservation Corp and how he came to identify as a preacher. But to me, it was the subtle truth of social justice that simply lived in Campbell's veins that most held me in the book. The story held me and filled in many missing puzzle pieces of my understanding of the people who lived in that treacherous time.

Alysa is in the midst of reading The Help. I found it nothing short of ironic and everything if not an opening when she began to read to me a short section of that text. After she finished talking about her amazement of racism as represented in Kathryn Stockett's book, I smiled, moved over next to her with Brother to a Dragonfly and entered the lovely door of book conversation with her. How timely was that!