(Theme: Vacation and History) Normally, I do one month at a time, but things are getting so crazy busy (hello, it’s spring!), I’m going to have to put two months together. My family went to Paris for spring break AND we had state testing. The trip and the tests have influenced my reading (or lack of) this month.
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui (autobiography). I think I heard about this book on NPR, although now I can’t remember. I was drawn to it because I have a 10-year-old daughter. Nujood was sold into marriage by her father (who had/has two wives, many children, and obviously, money was tight). She was ten, her husband was in his 30s. Her new husband promised he wouldn’t touch Nujood until a year after she began to menstruate, but he lied. He brutally raped her the first night they were together and then for weeks after that. I was so angry, reading this book—until I read how Nujood escaped, found a lawyer and sued for divorce. She’s TEN. This happened TWO YEARS AGO. What kind of a world do we live in where CHILDREN can be SOLD into marriage/as sex slaves??? My children live in a protected world, but there are so many who do not. This book makes that point in spades. It’s unsettling, compelling and hopeful. Nujood finds the strength to escape and hopefully, her story will help others do the same.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (romantic fiction). One of my daughters had to read this book for her English class. She asked me some question about it and I remembered reading and liking this book. So, I read it again. I have to say, I wasn’t as big a fan the second time around. I downright disliked Mr. Rochester and wanted to scream at Jane, “RUN! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!!” I’m still not sure what she saw in him. (My daughter was kinder. She said, “He married his first wife not KNOWING how she really was.”) I liked Jane very much. She has many wonderful qualities. The other characters in the story? Not so much. Still, I’m glad I read it again.
City of Thieves by David Benioff (historic fiction). World War II, here we are again. I can’t get enough of it! This one focuses on one young man’s survival in Russia (a new angle for me) during the Siege of Leningrad (another topic I knew NOTHING about). Lev (the young man) is 17 and is caught for “stealing” from a dead German soldier. He meets Kolya (a young soldier) in jail and the two of them are released by a general to find a dozen eggs (to make a wedding cake for his daughter). The task is impossible. There is NO food in the city (the residents have started eating the library books). Yet, the two take off to try and get the eggs in a week. The story is about their trials and triumphs. (There’s one particularly grisly scene where they are lured into an apartment where a man (giant) and his wife kill people and eat them. Ack. For all the gore and grimness of the situation, there is love and hope as well. I very much enjoyed this book!
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (historic fiction). Yawn. This is a story about a young man named Henry. He is Chinese, growing up in Seattle during (what else?) WWII. He has a Japanese friend named Keiko and of course, she is interned. The book was recommended to me by my book soulmate. She said, “Be careful, I started reading it and couldn’t stop. I had to stay up all night reading.” I didn’t have the same response. The chapters of the book go back and forth between the present and the past (in the present, Henry has just lost his wife to cancer and is now dealing with his ungrateful/cold son—artifacts from the internees have also just been discovered and he’s dealing with this information and the memories they bring). I found the book predictable and boring. I didn’t really care for any of the characters except for Keiko.
The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen (historic fiction). This book was a slog for me. Set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Lily is the daughter of the town’s apothecary. Her brother is a bit “slow” while Lily “remembers everything.” (Yeah, right. NOBODY remembers EVERYTHING. I got SO SICK of hearing about this in the book.) Lily’s mother left her father a few years back and now Lily helps her father, even though women aren’t supposed to do such things. Whatever. Lilly is not a bad character. I didn’t dislike her—in fact I appreciated her devotion to her father and her brother. But I did get tired of the fact that the author had every man fall in love with her. That just wasn’t realistic. The writing about the apothecary trade was interesting, but other than that, there were long stretches of the book were NOTHING happened. I felt like I was reading La Lacuna again. Once I start reading a book, I want to get through it (it’s a compulsion, I know). I was resentful that I kept reading this book and the author didn’t really deliver. I don’t recommend this book.
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough (biography). Last year, when we were getting ready for the state tests, our principal said, “I know you all are working hard, but…” the unsaid, “work harder” was left hanging in the air. I came home disheartened that night and told my husband, “I need to bring the children home, feed them, help them with their homework, bathe them, tuck them in, read to them, wake them up, give them a good breakfast, speak nicely to them and get them to school on time.” My husband responded, “So, short of adopting these kids, you really CAN’T work harder.” He’s right. People like Geoffrey Canada are special (he reminds me of Hanley Denning, who founded Safe Passage in Guatemala). They see a problem and they say, “This CANNOT go on.” And then they do something about it. Canada did something about the issues of poverty, neglect and lack of education in Harlem. His name comes up often here (in NY), so I’ve been curious to read this book for a long time. Some of what I read made me say, “Oh, come ON!” (Like the fact that he got his girlfriend pregnant when he was 20), but in some ways, I guess that’s helped him do what he does today. It’s an inspirational read. I wish I could be like Canada.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction). After visiting Paris (and getting very excited about the architecture and history there), I wanted to come home and re-read this book. (I LOVED seeing Notre Dame—the fact that people almost 1,000 years ago could build something like that amazes me.) I wanted to reread the story of Prior Phillip and his quest to build a cathedral. I love Ken Follet’s loveable characters (Tom the Builder, Jack, Aliena, Ellen) and I hate the hateful ones (why does Earl William have to be SO brutal? I have to skip a lot of the gory details that Follett so meticulously includes.). But I just adore this book. It’s over 1,000 pages long, but the story is so good, you’ll be sad when you finish.
The Song of Roland Anonymous (poetry). When I was in the sixth grade, Mr. Mowinkle read this poem to us. Every day after lunch, we’d come back to our room and sit and he’d read to us for 20 minutes or so. I don’t really remember the story much, but I DO remember that I LOVED to listen to Mr. Mowinkle read the poetry. While reading Pillars of the Earth, one of the characters (Jack) starts reciting the poem to Aliena. I remembered how much I liked listening to it and so I read it for myself. I can’t imagine how I even began to comprehend the story as a sixth-grader! I had ZERO background knowledge about Charlemagne (I still don’t have THAT much). But somehow, this epic poem spoke to me about the crusades and the fight between Christianity and Islam. I liked it better when someone else read it to me, but I still liked it this time. And now I have some background knowledge and can comprehend the ideals of the time (honor, glory, etc.).
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (young adult, realistic fiction). This is a weird book. It’s about a girl who kills herself and then sends the 13 reasons why to the 13 people who she blames for her death. Seen from my adult eyes, I want to yell at her and say, “YOU HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS!!!” BUT, seen from the eyes of a vulnerable 13-year-old? I have to think again. It makes me question how we treat others, especially those who are bullied. A good lesson in standing up for what is right and what you believe.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest comes out this month! May 25th! I’m so excited!