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We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success

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In this work three African American doctors tell the story of how they used their brains, loyalty, and few good chances to escape their tough urban neighborhood, go to college and medical school, and become doctors. The book is targeted for an adolescent audience, although there is an adult version, called “The Pact” available. At the end of each chapter, the doctors give some advice to young people who want to achieve more than those around them expect.Quote: “Young people need positive role models and guidance in their lives. There is no underestimating a positive figure in a child’s life.”I picked this book up because it is the only one recommended by more than one of my ninth graders. I enjoyed the anecdotes about the childhood and teenage years of the young men, but mostly I appreciated their frank discussion of the challenges their lives presented, the choices they needed to make, and the belief of many in their neighborhood that they would never get out. I think young people would enjoy the work even more than I did, since the authors were careful to target students.
The Constant Princess

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This is the first work of several by Philippa Gregory dealing with the wives of England’s King Henry VIII. This week tells the story of Henry’s first wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella and Fredinand. However, Catalina originally traveled to England as the bride of Henry’s older brother, Arthur, raised since birth to be the next king of England. As a young couple, Catalina and Arthur make plans to bring about a glorious kingdom. However, after Arthur falls ill, Katherine knows that she must take drastic measures if she is going to achieve her destiny as she has been taught since childhood- to be Queen of England.Quote: “In those days before her coronation, Catalina established herself as the undeniable queen, and those who had ignored her years of poverty now discovered in themselves tremendous affection and respect for the princess. She accepted their admiration, just as she had accepted their neglect.” I liked this book a lot, especially because I really enjoy this period in history, both in fiction and nonfiction. Katherine does not always get a lot of press among Henry’s wives, especially in her early years, before another future queen comes on the scene. I am looking forward to reading the next two books of Gregory’s about wives of this court, although it will be difficult to adjust to leaving Katherine’s perspective. I am hoping that Gregory will next turn her attention to the monarchs of Scotland who lived during this time.
The Guy Not Taken

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In these eleven short stories, Weiner tells stories of falling in love and falling out of love. The themes seem to be: children, divorce, the east coast, and Judaism. Although the short stories tell about the lives of different characters, many of them are experiencing similar life stages, emotions, or complications.Quote: “He’s sat across from girls like that in high school . . . laughing loudly and drinking too much and leaving with the first guy who’d whisper the word beautiful.”I liked this collection more than I thought I would- I’m not usually a huge fan of short stories, since I feel like I’m abandoning the characters just after getting to know what they’re about. This group of stories was pretty entertaining and showed a variety of lives and emotions, and how the same general situations can be interpreted differently by different people.
Digging to America

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In 1997, two infant girls were adopted from Korea by American families. One family, the Donaldsons, are determined to raise their daughter Jin-Ho with as much of her native culture as possible, while the others, the second-generation Iranian-American Yazdans, attempt to make their new daughter, and themselves, as American-seeming as possible. There night the girls arrive on the same plane bonds the two families together, as they celebrate a commemorative “arrival party” every year. Although they do not always understand one another, they do become aware that they each have a lot to learn from the other.Quote: “The child asleep in Polly’s lab bore almost no connection to the baby on the screen. The sudden ache she felt was very like grief, as if that first Jin-Ho had suddenly passed out of existence.”I thought this book was excellent- definitely one that I could come back to. Experiencing the same process and life events with two different- very different- families was interesting, particularly because they are continually drawn to each other. The book follows individuals from four distinct cultures: the U.S., Iran, Korea, and, eventually, China, and considers their “Americanness” and their “otherness” together- how they have a huge number of differences, but are ultimately the same.
Ladrona de libros, La

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In a story told by death, Zusak gives us the tale of a foster child living in Nazi Germany. Liesel finds many ways to subvert the fatherland, including stealing a book from a burning, leaving food for prisoners, and, with her family, hiding a Jewish man in the basement. Because the story is told by death, the reader is given a glimpse into Liesel's life, but also shown the wider view of an exhausted Death during World War II. Quote: "He chose his words gradually. `Don't get caught.' This from a man who'd stolen a Jew." Review: I really liked this book. The idea of Death being an observer of life- given a task to do regardless of personal feelings- is very interesting. A unique tale. Additionally, there is a cast of primary and secondary characters introduced, which adds a great dimension to the story since they are all fascinating individuals. Although it is classified as "youth fiction," it is quite sizable (over 500 pages), and would be good reading for most adults.
Those Who Save Us

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This novel tells two stories: one of Anna, a young woman in Nazi Germany, and the second of an elderly Anna and her daughter, Trudie, living in Minnesota. Trudie was born in Germany during World War II, but Anna refuses to discuss the circumstances of her daughter's birth. All Trudie has to go on is a picture that fills her with dread: her mother, herself as a baby, and a Nazi officer. Trudie is now a professor of German history conducting an interview project interviewing German men and women who lived during the Third Reich. As the two stories are told back and forth, we, and Trudie, learn more about Anna's past. Quote: "She is really more irritated with herself than Anna, for she has wasted this chance given to her. She has tried to crack her most important subject, and she has failed." Although this book moved slowly at times, I liked it overall. I found myself wanting to skip over the Anna and Trudie sections, so I could get back to Anna in Germany faster. Usually when I read World War II book I read about concentration camps or members of the resistance, not about how life might have been for someone who, for whatever reason, may have been a collaborator. It was an interesting perspective.
Escape Under the Forever Sky

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Lucy Hoffman, thirteen, is the daughter of the American ambassador to Ethiopia. She has a big house, servants, and lives in the "pseudo neighborhood" comprised entirely of American embassy buildings. However, she is constantly reminded of the possibility of disaster - the fact that the group of houses is surrounded by a huge cement wall, complete with razor wire, separating them from the rest of Ethiopia. Lucy is a nature and animal-loving rebel. She loves living in Africa, but would love it more if she got to experience the wide world without her mother (literally) sending marines to bring her home. Lucy's gains a new respect for her family when she is kidnapped by three bad guys, forcing her to make a daring escape and try to get home again through the Ethiopian wild.Quote: "But my mind must have been playing tricks on me because I thought I heard someone calling my name. 'Lucy, over there! They are calling you.' Tana pointed straight ahead, and sure enough, there were half a dozen U.S. marines shouting, 'Lucy Hoffman! Lucy Hoffman!' Completely mortified, I looked at my friends shocked faces. My mother."This is a decent young person's book. Although the bad guys are a bit ambiguous, without establishing a clear motive or personalities, the story is interesting, especially how Lucy uses her knowledge of the wild to overcome her challenges. The author spells the moral of the story out plainly - "It was so incredibly ironic. All I'd done was complain nonstop about never being allowed out, and here I was, really out, and all I wanted was to get back in." It's an adventure story that would appeal to both genders and be enjoyed by many youths.
The Attack

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Dr. Amin Jaafari is a successful Arab-Israeli doctor living in Tel Aviv. Despite the fact that the city sometimes suffers from violence between Muslims and Jews, his world is relatively peaceful. All this changes, however, when there is a suicide bombing at a restaurant in the city, and it is determined that his wife was the bomber. Jaafari struggles with the knowledge that he must have not really known the woman he loved, and goes on a journey to find some answers.Quote: “The curtness of his tone, together with his summary manner, unsettles me. I can’t believe that a man thought to be so close to God can be so far from men, so insensitive to their distress.”While the premise of this book is very interesting, it requires that the reader be concerned with the lives of the doctor and his wife, that we buy into his personal tragedy. However, the development of the book doesn’t work that way- it’s hard for the reader t understand Jaafari’s shock that his wife is an extremist when she’s been that way since the beginning of the book. It was a fascinating premise, but it didn’t always hold my attention.
Joseph

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Joseph lives in poverty with his drug and alcohol addicted mother while his father fights in Iraq. Now a young teenager, the academically inclined Joseph gets a lucky break when a move takes him to a homeless shelter which is zoned to a privileged school – very unlike his previous educational experiences. Joseph is thrilled to be able to go to school where no one knows about him and his mother and where he sees opportunities all around him. However, there is always a fear that one day he will be unable to look out for his mother any longer.Quote: “Do not sleep with any girl you do not want to be the mother of your child ten years from now.”This is a nice piece of work for young adult fiction in a generic feel good kind of way. The story is a little predictable, the mother is really the child, the child really takes on more adult roles, like trying to keep the family safe and keep his mother from embarrassing him. It is important to tell stories about trying to change the situation you were born into for all ages, but even for the young people the book is geared for it seems to put a very simplistic spin on things.
Autism and Me: Sibling Stories

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Autism and Me is designed to teach kids about autism through the eyes of other youths. In each two-page spread the sibling of an autistic child tells the reader about their brother or sister. The best thing about this book is that it is not an attempt to define autism - it does not try to tell the reader the way kids with autism behave, instead the book gives siblings the chance to share their stories. In Their lack of commonalities tie the book together. Without having to say so explicitly, the message is clear. Autism means a child is different in any number of different ways. Some of the autistic children featured dislike interaction with others, some are social butterflies. Some do not talk at all, others walk up to strangers and talk to them cheerfully. Some live at home, some go to public school, some live in residential facilities. The stories are not sugarcoated and the young tellers offer many examples of the challenges their siblings face. However, overall the love in each story is evident. The photographs are beautifully done, but I'm unsure of what age group would find the most benefit from the stories.
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