To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The book itself has a lot of memorable events, big a really big one is the Tom Robbinson case. The book talks about racism in the events that take place, and knowing that many people wouldn’t listen to a man because of his color was not right. My reactions to this book was somewhat shocked. Only some events did that to me, and some were interesting. I was interesting in what was next for the Finch kids and the case itself. I think that racism was definitely wrong back then. There was no right to be treated that way and knowing that some people wouldn’t give you the respect you deserved. I had to read this book for my Lit/Writ class, but I did get hooked. I wanted to know how these people treated one another with their ways. It was interesting to find out how things were back then. I also had to keep reading it for my Lit/Writ class. I would give this book to people 10 years and over. It’s a suitable book for anyone to read, as long as they can understand it. It’s important for them to know what racism was and how was it.

book reviewed by Giovanni Mendoza

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The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman

Summary:  Asa is a young boy growing up on the Minnesota prairie shortly after the Civil War ends, “in the shadow of the Great Sioux War.” His family isn’t warm or loving and has suffered many hardships. The most recent hardship has been the locusts that have come every year and devour everything in sight including every living crop that they must grow to live. When Asa’s Aunt Hazel comes to live with the family, Asa instantly develops a relationship with her and begins to learn the terrible history that is lurking always in the background of their family life.

Caleb, Asa’s father, and Hazel came to Minnesota with their family, leaving the South and slavery behind. They move to a farm situated across the river from a band of Dakota Sioux. The family befriends the Indians and the children play with one another. Hazel teaches some of the Indians English and they share folklore, both Dakota and German. When a young Dakota girl commits suicide after mysterious circumstances and a government payment to the Indians is delayed, the Indian prepare to take revenge. When the Indians finally attack the town and outlying farms, the results are horrendous. Hazel is captured but survives by trying to become Dakota. Caleb fights with the small army of soldiers from the fort and when reinforcements arrive, they are able to capture the warring Indians. The 37 warriors held responsible for the uprising are hung for their parts, including the young warrior who had become Hazel’s husband.

Asa loves hearing Hazel’s stories of the past but when she begins to suffer again from the epilepsy that had kept her institutionalized for so many years, Asa’s mother threatens to send her back to the hospital. Asa takes off alone to find medicine for Hazel and almost dies. When Caleb finds him and brings him home, Hazel is already gone and it is only then when Caleb tells him the rest of the story.

Why I picked it up: This was a 2013 ALEX Award Winner, the award given to adult books with young adult appeal. I wanted to read it because it is historical fiction and it might be a good book to suggest to students.

Why I kept reading it: I have always been interested in this time period and Asa’s family are German immigrants, much like my family. The Sioux Uprising was much overshadowed by the Civil War and it is somewhat ironic that the federal government was fighting to free slaves and make them equal but at the same time putting Indians on reservations and treating them as less than human.

Who would I give it to next:  I would give this to anyone who like historical fiction, especially those that are interested in Native Americans. Well-written, researched historical fiction is a great way to learn history.

Reviewed by Mrs. Accorinti

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Summary: The storyline is an intertwining of Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel’s life after they decide to raise a ship-wrecked baby as their own and the life of the baby’s mother and how each react when they find out about each other.

Why I picked it up: It was my choice for the Book Club assignment for AP Lit over December break!

Why I kept reading it: I needed to find out what would happen to each of the characters (whether they would accept or deny the truth and new revelations) and think more about how to judge the actions of two opposing sides when each side is so morally gray.

Who would I give it to next: Anyone! But particularly freshmen; they’re more likely than other high school students to be at the point where it’s hard to take into consideration the consequences of one’s actions and acknowledge that there are more perspectives than one’s own.

Reviewed by Selena H.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Summary: The book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See illustrates the story of two laotong  pairs, or two similar girls paired together during childhood, Lily and Snow Flower going through many adversities together throughout a peculiar time in Chinese history. Taking place in the Chinese province of Hunan, these two girls must make it through the difficulties of the Taiping Rebellion and the difficult processes of farming. They must bear the harshness of men at the time and their demanding lives, especially when the two girls live in an agricultural area. Being two females, they have sensitive and different personalities then men, but have a hard time expressing them. The two girls persist and make it through one of the hardest times in their province’s history by sticking together and communicating using merely silk fans and a language of their own in their remarkable story of two girls in unforgiving turmoil and the idea of true friendship. Nonetheless, such a glorious friendship begins to die as the two girls seek lives with different purposes in this novel of the battle of friendship and life.

Why I picked it up: I picked this novel up because it had a concise message and an informative historical taste to it. The novel seemed visual and emotionally touching because it was realistic and historical while still being fictional, especially how it described the dying friendship of two close girls.

Why I kept reading it: Although the book was at some points to elaborative on the friendship between the two girls, it was always intriguing to imagine how the girls would survive together from one adversity to the next. The book was easy to visualize especially, which made it better during the tense moments as the girls go through difficult times.

Who I would give it to next: I would give this book to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction, especially historical fiction and books with cinematic stories. Anyone who enjoys thrilling books with easy visualization would enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Ahmed E.

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Summary: Kit Corrigan runs away from her small-town life and seeks refuge in New York City. Her dream is to be a Broadway star, but trying to get a job in New York is harder than she thinks. An unexpected offer comes from her ex-boyfriend’s dad, a powerful lawyer. All she has to do is keep him updated about her moody ex-boyfriend who enlisted in the army. Soon Kit becomes a Lido-Doll with a an expensive apartment. But is it worth it? Are there too many “string’s attached”?

Why I picked it up: I liked the tone and style of writing that Blundell uses as well as what the characters seemed like. I was curious to know more about them and how they would impact the course of the book. Also it was an easy read, and with a lot of schoolwork I wanted a book I could finish fast and relax with.

Why I kept reading it: Despite being a teen book, Strings Attached has many complex relationships. I started out expecting a cheesy-teen book that, I could read rather than mind-blowing books like Neil Gaiman’s. I was pleasantly surprised that the characters had flaws and there there was more of a back-story than I expected. Also, one of the most captivating parts of the book is Blundell’s use of time which goes back and forth and gives insight into her characters.

Who I would give it to next: Someone who likes teen books or fast reads, but wants a little more complexity in relationships.

Reviewed by Juanita D.

In the Shadows of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Summary: In the Shadow of the Banyan is a heartbreaking book that takes place during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Based on the author’s own experiences, the book follows five-year-old Raami and her family as they are forced to leave Phnom Penh, the capital, and move into the countryside. Along the way, Raami loses most of her relatives and must constantly face the harsh reality of living in a socialist regime. Even through the pain that she faces every day, Raami still manages to find hope in little things around her, never entirely giving up on her chance for survival.   A story filled with tragedy and hardship, it demonstrates why hope is present even in the darkest of times. The author manages to convey her message using language so beautiful that I found myself rereading parts of it over and over again. Both devastating and uplifting, In the Shadow of the Banyan is one of the most touching books that I have read in a long time, and I will not forget it in a hurry.

Why I picked it up: I was at Leigh’s Favorite Books in Sunnyvale looking for a good read. It was propped up on a table in the middle of the store. It had a beautiful cover, and interesting title, and it was 20% off. Then I read the book summary on the inside of the book jacket and I knew I had to buy it.

Why I kept reading it: Even though it was slow in several places, I kept going because I had to find out how the story ended. The author has a gift for descriptive language- something I eat up. If not the most action-driven book, it is a beautiful story that moves at a gentle pace. The characters themselves are endearing and have great depth. Plus I have a tendency to start reading a book and not be able to put it down until I’m finished, so that probably helped too.

Who would I give it to next: My mom. She has a great appreciation for historical literature, and I love to be able to share my books with her. It’s always nice to have someone to discuss a book with, and since my mom has an English major, it’s always especially enlightening to hear what she thought of a book that I enjoyed.

Student Name: Monica N.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Summary: The graphic novel tells of the author’s father, Vladek Spigelman’s experience as a Jew during the World War II era. Vladek’s experiences show the kind of pain one is accustomed to hearing about during the War. However, he always has moments of joy- intimate moments which the reader is also able to bask in as Vladek’s personal narration (with his charming grasp of the English language) introduces you to the workings of his life and family. The young Vladek was infinitely resourceful, always sharp-minded, and mindful of the people around him- tools that allowed him to survive the Holocaust. But the book also touches on the topic that vitality during the Holocaust was not black and white. People who die didn’t “lose”- situations oftentimes came down to bad luck, and people who survived didn’t “win”- while some, like Vladek, were able to survive of their own doing, at the end of the day, it also depended very much on luck and winning didn’t grant them anything- in fact, I’m sure they would wish the whole “game” had never taken place. Yet between his re-tellings, the author also presents his own moments with the now present, embittered Vladek, who is very similar to caricatures of the “cheap Jew” stereotype. The two Vladeks shown act as a foil against each other, and leave the reader wondering just what must have changed between the era after the war that would have caused Vladek’s beloved wife Anja to suicide and Vladek to morph. The novel is blissfully honest, and the art that it is presented with
has its own distinct life. Surprisingly, the cartoon does not take from the story- instead it embraces it to lure the reader into the cold world of World War II Eastern Europe.

Why I picked it up: I’ve always been intrigued by the two World Wars and when I was filing away books for the school library I came across Maus. At first, I thought it was a joke when I saw the cover- a swastika flag with two mice cowering before it. I opened it up only to see pictures of Nazi cats chasing after Jewish mice… it definitely must have been a joke novel. I then jokingly asked the librarian if I could read it for my book report and she said yes- in fact, it was a Pulitzer prize winner! After hearing that, the possibility it might have been a serious novel was too much so I actually did end up checking it out.

 Why I kept reading it: Because it was good! Some scenes were a bit dull but chapters were never too long, the art was amazing in its own way, the story inspirational, and the honesty presented in such a well-known book was a major relief and pleasure to read.

 Who would I give it to next: Someone mature enough to understand the story behind the art, and who has an open mind about sensitive race-related topics. Someone who wants to read an easy-to-read novel about the Holocaust who has already read Elie Wiesel’s Night.

Reviewed by Lora L.