Archive for May 15th, 2009

“The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

356 pp.

Sidda Lee Walker, engaged to Connor, is coming to terms with the legacy of her mother, Vivi “Dahlin” Walker. Many years earlier, Vivi had “dropped her basket” and beaten her children. Sidda is left with physical as well as mental scars. When she tells an interviewer from the New York Times about the incident, the headline is Tap Dancing Child Abuser. Vivi reads this and refuses to forgive Sidda for misinterpreting her. “My love was a privilege you abused. I have withdrawn that privilege. You are out of my heart. You are banished to the outer reaches. I wish you nothing but unending guilt.”

As the book moves forward, Sidda postpones her wedding. She goes off alone to think about her mother and their relationship, and to bring back memories of her mother at an earlier time. Vivi has lent Sidda a scrapbook entitled the ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’ that chronicles the friendship of Vivi and three other girls.  These girls remain inseparable into adulthood, so the other women are like aunts to Sidda, their children her cousins. As Sidda looks through the scrapbook, alternate chapters give the real story behind each of the mementos. Though Vivi’s life had many difficulties, the Ya-Ya sisterhood helped her survive and grow. The four girls had nights out in the woods pretending to be Indian maidens, giving themselves Indian names; they played several pranks and often got in trouble. In adulthood, they were pregnant at the same time, and in old age, they still picnicked and drank together.

The feel for Louisiana and the South in general adds local color to the novel. It is definitely a “chick” book, glorifying the long, fruitful friendships among women. I found the premise of Sidda as a dramatic director and her need for the scrapbook to help her in directing her next play too contrived.  A homecoming seemed a little easy as the outcome of such anger. However, there are wonderful moments in the book, especially on Vivi’s youth and her time in a convent school—and maybe I’m too harsh a critic because everyone else I know loved this book. If you are asked to read a loosely historical fiction to start a project, this is a good choice.

Add comment May 15, 2009

“Hatchet”

“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen

195 pp.

Brian’s parents have divorced and he is going to visit his father in Canada, flying in a small Cessna with a middle-age pilot whose name escapes him (Jim or Jake) The trip is alternately exciting and boring until the pilot has a heart attack and dies. Brian tries to call for help over the radio, but he does not know his flight number or location. Eventually his cries are not heard. When the plane runs out of gas, Brian has been preparing mentally to land as close to the edge of the lake as he can manage to steer.

Brian’s survival in the wilderness is never a certain bet. The book depicts the difficulty of his situation. The only useful tool he has is a hatchet his mother insisted he take. Things that work in the movies don’t work for him; whenever something does work, it is though patience and persistence. Lighting a fire or gathering food can take all day. Mosquitoes nearly eat Brian alive; he is sunburned and blistered and always hungry.

Some of Brian’s first food is raw snapping turtle eggs, and the details of his eating them provide a context for understanding what true hunger is. However, he learns new survival techniques each day and become more aware of his environment. Eventually he is able to spear fish and shoot ruffed grouse with a bow and arrow. When a tornado strikes, Brian’s “house” is ruined, and it’s easy to understand how basic live can become.

This is a good tale of maturing, of survival. It is a detailed description of all that Brian must do to continue to exist and seems very realistic. Many students read this one before they get to high school. If you haven’t read it, do so, just so that you have same experience in reading a good adventure book as the rest of your classmates. (It’s a ‘cultural literacy’ thing.) I don’t like when Paulsen seems to imitate Hemingway’s style, but it may appeal to others—and who knows? Maybe there’s a literary criticism essay on ‘style’ just waiting to be written.

4 comments May 15, 2009

“The Giver”

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

180 pp.

Jonas lives in a future utopia in which everyone seems to behave well and apologizes when they hurt someone’s feelings or do something wrong. In the evenings, families share their days, expressing their happiness and frustrations. In the morning, they dutifully report their dreams to one another.

There are many indicators that children are growing up. All children are presented with jobs or tools at the yearly Ceremony. Jonas’ sister, at 8, will start her volunteer hours and at the age of 12, Jonas receives his assignment for life. Rather then become the usual such as an engineer or nurturer, Jonas is to be the receiver, the most important job in the community. He will go to the current Receiver to be given communal memories which individuals don’t know about. Memory is considered too powerful and painful for the general population. The communities, encased in an artificial and perfect environment, know nothing of the heat of the sun or the cold of the winter snow. Jonas is disturbed by many of the memories he receives–of war especially. But he also receives a memory of love that that is more deep and binding than possible in the rational world of his community.

Jonas’ father is a nurturer. He accepts babies from the birth-givers, and works in a nurturing center where babies are kept until they turn one year old. One baby, Gabriel, is not very healthy, and Jonas’ father gets special permission to bring him home to sleep at night, hoping the extra care will help him gain a little weight. If Gabriel does not do better, he will be “Released”. Jonas helps Gabriel sleep by giving him memories, which is strictly forbidden.

Gabriel does not do as well as Jonas’ father had hoped and is scheduled for Release. Jonas and the Giver hatch a plan to bring memory back to the community, but to do so, Jonas must flee “elsewhere.”

I know that many people read this novel before they get to high school, but if you haven’t read it, do so. It is often censored and would make a good read for “Banned Books Week.”

Add comment May 15, 2009

“Blood and Chocolate”

“Blood and Chocolate” by Annette Curtis Klause

264 pp.

Though “Blood and Chocolate” is a young adult book (that is, it’s meant for a teen audience), it is a very sensuous, even sexual book. Vivian, the she-werewolf, thinks a lot about having Aiden, a human, as a lover. She introduced herself to him after reading a poem he wrote about becoming a wolf. There are many scenes of the two almost having sex. In the end, Vivian decides to show Aiden that she is a werewolf. His reaction and subsequent behavior alienate Vivian from others at her school.

In the meantime, a werewolf is killing people in town. Vivian can’t remember doing the killing, but she keeps finding evidence that she is the culprit.

Throughout the book, Vivian has a conflict about her place in the wolf pack . At one point, a renegade she-werewolf attacks Vivian’s mother. When Vivian defends her mother, she becomes the lead female wolf, but rejects the pack leader Gabriel.

“Having fallen for a human boy, Vivian must battle both her pack mates and the fear of the townspeople to decide where she belongs and with whom.” (book jacket) The beautiful human Aiden or the werewolf Gabriel—with dual wolf and human natures?

If you are looking for a book with supernatural characters and are finished reading the “Twilight” series and “Vampire Academy”, I think you’ll like this one.

Add comment May 15, 2009

“Fallen Angels”

“Fallen Angles” by Walter Dean Myers

309 pp.

Richie Perry is an African-American boy who goes to Vietnam. His experiences there change his perception of the world. On his first day out, another new recruit is blown apart when he steps on a mine. A favorite understanding officer, Lieutenant Carroll, is killed a few months later. Soon after, a favorite companion, Brew, has his leg ripped open and dies during the evacuations as Perry holds his hand. Perry also finds that he often does not understand who is the enemy and is frightened of some of the villagers as they may be part of the Viet Cong. On one trip to a local village to search for VC, a woman hands a baby to a GI. The baby explodes, killing the GI. Other soldiers then kill the women and the other child who was with her.

Periodically, Perry is bored. There often seems to be racial tension in his platoon although it is never explored.

Among his other gruesome experiences, Perry is wounded twice. The book has a lot of suspense and excitement. The view of a young soldier seems to be realistic. Someone interested in what the Vietnam War was like or even what it feels like to be a soldier would “enjoy” reading Fallen Angles. This would work for projects requiring you to began with loosely historical fiction, but you can’t have a weak tummy. War is gorey.

Add comment May 15, 2009


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