As I approach my 7-year blogging anniversary, I’ve been looking at some of the old reviews I posted. A lot of them are pretty short, with limited plot descriptions, and mostly my opnions. I’d love to go back and beef them up a bit, but I think I’d have to re-read the books before I did that. So today I’m just going to share three short reviews of books I liked, but didn’t say too much about!
This is a touching coming-of-age story about eleven-year-old Phillip Enright, an American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II. When Phillip and his mother leave the island to escape the dangers of the war, their boat is hit and sunk by a German U-boat. Phillip is struck in the head and thrown into the water and he wakes to find himself on a raft with Timothy, a large, old, black man from the West Indies. The blow to Phillip’s head causes him to lose his sight as the two of them float aimlessly in the Caribbean.
This unlikely pair struggles to survive first on the water, and later on a tiny uninhabited island. But the biggest struggle is within Phillip, whose preconceived ideas about a black man run counter to what we see in Timothy. Timothy pushes Phillip to learn how to fish, climb trees and find his way around the island on his own, without his sight. Timothy is both kind and patient and through his wisdom, Phillip learns the true meaning of friendship and sacrifice.
I think this story does a great job showing how an eleven-year-old boy thinks and feels, from selfish, angry and scared to generous and caring.
The Giver is a terrific read for anyone, but it’s perfect for middle school students because it is so thought provoking. It is the story of a controlled society in which there are no choices or conflict. When Jonas turns twelve, he must train with The Giver and prepare to receive all the memories of love, happiness, war and pain. During his training, Jonas learns the hard truth about his community and its rules and knows he must act decisively to bring about change.
The best part about this book is that every word counts. Lois Lowry is great at describing her characters and their community. She includes meaningful foreshadowing that leads the reader through a gradual understanding of what might initially seem like an acceptable way to live. She accomplishes this by revealing just enough details and we realize the facts just as Jonas does.
The Giver ends just as you want to learn more. And thankfully, there is more to the story in Messenger, Gathering Blue and Lowry’s newest, Son.
Christina Baker Kline
I liked this book that parallels the story of a young girl sent west on an orphan train from New York City in 1929 and a present-day Native American teenage girl who has struggled in the modern foster care system. I think Kline does an excellent job showing us how Niamh Power and these destitute orphaned children, both numb and frightened, must have felt as they traveled and met up with their matches, which were often far from perfect. Molly Ayer’s present-day story of a rebellious, Goth girl whose father has died and whose mother is addicted to drugs is somehow less powerful, but provides a necessary structure to the story. Molly meets ninety-one year-old Niamh, now named Vivian, when she is assigned to a community service punishment for stealing a book. The two form a friendship as Molly helps Vivian sort through her attic and together they relive Vivian’s story.
I liked Vivian’s story very much. I think Kline is great when she describes Vivian’s feelings and her desperate situation. It is very easy to imagine these children and their simple desire to live in a home where they are wanted, or at least fed and clothed and treated kindly. It’s somehow both shocking and understood that these orphans don’t always get that.
I enjoyed the book. It’s a look into a time that, because of the changes and struggles in those years, is full of stories.
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