Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Year Published: 2009

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 312
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library

Summary (from the back of the book): Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear--part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer... to join "the real world."

There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file--a picture of a girl with half a face--that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

Review: I have had this book on my to read list for years and am glad that I finally got around to reading it. My daughter was reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which triggered me to think of Marcelo and pick up this book. The books are similar in the way they capture the voice of the main character, but Marcelo is more high functioning, saying he has Asperger's.

Marcelo's story is so interesting, but its his voice that captured me. Stork did a wonderful job of getting inside Marcelo's head and showing the reader how someone "on the spectrum" might see the world. At the end of the book the author describes his years of working and living with autistic young adults in a half-way house. He says this book "acknowledges the gifts of these young people and the gift of love he received" from them. What a perfect way to describe Marcelo. He is caring, thoughtful, and interested to figure out what he doesn't "get" about people. He is forthright and talks about what is going on, and in turn gets the other characters to do the same.

There were moments when I wanted to shout at Wendell for being cruel to Marcelo, to shield Marcelo from people's deceit, but that's the mark of a good book; I was completely sucked in. I also smiled as I read when Marcelo made real connections with other characters or stood up for himself. This book takes the reader on a journey that is so good!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review: The Columnist by David Auburn

Title: The Columnist
Author: David Auburn
Year Published: 2012

Genre: Adult fictionalized non-fiction (play)
Pages: 99
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (DC)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): In mid-century America, newspaper columnists are kings--and Joseph Alsop wears the biggest crown. Joe sits at the nexus of Washington life: beloved, feared, and courted in equal measure. But as the sixties dawn and America undergoes dizzying change, the intense political dramas Joe is embroiled in come to claim a profound personal cost.

Inspired by the real-life story of Joseph Alsop, David Auburn has penned a vital letter from a radically changing decade to our own turbulent era. The Columnist is a deft blend of history and fiction: a hilarious, searing portrait of the glorious rewards and devastating losses that accompany ego, ambition, and the pursuit of power.

Review: My fourteen-year-old daughter bought this yesterday in a used bookstore. I thought it was an odd choice, but didn't want to dissuade her from book buying so I didn't say anything. She started reading it in the car on the way home, then began to ask me questions: What's the best way to read a play? Who is David Halberstam? What is Dien Bien Phu? What year did the Vietnam War begin? As I began answering the questions, she said she would just start reading aloud.

This is a play and the characters are all from history. They are the movers and shakers of politics when JFK was President. We ended up having a great conversation about plays, about history, and about journalists. This slim volume of only 99 pages covers 1963 to 1969 and through the conversations of the main characters the reader gets a fascinating glimpse into history.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Black Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA non-fiction (verse)
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (Ohio, South Carolina, New York)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Review: I have only read Locomotion and Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson but when this one won the National Book Award and I started hearing the praise for it, I knew it was a book that I wanted to read.

It is aimed at 5th grade and above so it is a fast read. In addition, it is written in verse so as an adult, it feels as if I flew through the book. However, because it is so captivating and so beautifully written I read it quickly, absorbing every word and phrase.

Woodson does a wonderful job of showing what life was like for African Americans in the 1960s and '70s, especially comparing life in the north and south. Through it all she is surrounded by an extended family that takes care of one another and makes sure that she is safe. I realize it's amazing that she ended up an accomplished author!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

Title: I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Author: Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA non-fiction
Pages: 224
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Pakistan

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive.

Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her best selling memoir, which includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world--and did.

Review: I don't really have to say much about this book since Malala's story is so well known. I have wanted to read this book for a long time now and am glad that I finally did. I am also glad that I read the young reader version since it means it was a quick and easy read.

Patricia McCormick, a fantastic Young Adult author, is the co-author on this book and I think they did a good job of making a difficult topic accessible to adolescent readers. Life in Pakistan is so very different from life in the US and the issues with the Taliban are complicated, but this book makes it all very easy to understand for US/western readers. The explanations and descriptions of life before the Taliban, how Malala felt about issues pertaining to her religion and culture, and her life did have similarities to our youth are all done well. For example, I love that she watched episodes of Ugly Betty to learn English when her school was closed!

Before I don't this book to one of our school libraries, I will have my daughter read it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Title: Crossover
Author: Kwame Alexander
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA fiction (sports)
Pages: 237
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): "A bolt of lightening on my kicks... the court is sizzling. My sweat is drizzling. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering." raps basketball phenom Josh Bell. Thanks to his dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court, with crossovers that make even the toughest ballers cry. But Josh has more than hoops in his blood. He's got a river of rhymes flowing through him--a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything's on the line.

As their winning season unfolds, things begin to change. When Jordan meets the new girl in school, the twins' tight-knit bond unravels. In this heartfelt novel, basketball and brotherhood intertwine to show Josh and Jordan that life doesn't come with a play book and, sometimes, it's not about winning.

Review: I read Kwame Alexander's book He Said She Said and liked it so when I saw this one on the shelves, I bought it without hesitation. I figured I would donate it to my high school's library when I finished it. Then, about 50 or 60 pages in the character mentions that he is in junior high. Junior high? I thought they would be high school students. They aren't. So I figured I would donate it to one of our junior highs. Then I finished the book and now I plan on giving it to the high school.
  • The book is written in verse, which I really liked. It makes the story move quickly and really sets a mood that fits
  • I liked Josh Bell (JB). He is all about basketball, but also really cares about his parents and his twin brother
  • The basketball storyline is fun: a winning team, a supportive coach, there's no violence, drugs, alcohol, or bullying. There is tension, sadness, and it's intense, but that's good