March ’15 Update – Ashley

* The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reread) – I think this is probably only the second time I’ve read Huck Finn.  I know I read it once in high school for a Lit class (as evidenced by all the margin notes in my copy), but I doubt I’ve read it since then.  After reading two (relatively) current/modern books in February, I thought I’d switch it up a little in March and read a classic.  I remembered enjoying Huck Finn, so I thought I’d start there…

Huckleberry_Finn_book

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn chronicles the journey of young Huck Finn down the Mississippi River as he escapes his less-than-satisfying life with an alcoholic father and overbearing widow.  Along the way, he is joined by a slave named Jim, who has run away in order to seek life as a free man.  As the title suggests, their travels are interrupted by many an adventure and the constant fear of being discovered and returned to their miserable former lives.  Their adventures range from comical – Huck dressing as a girl in an attempt to retrieve information, to terrifying – being trapped aboard a shipwreck with a crew of murderous thieves.  The secondary cast is made up, almost entirely, of horribly unsavory characters who are more interested in furthering their own agenda than in being decent human beings.  The redemption in this story comes in Huck’s growing realization about how terribly people treat one another.  His conscience begins to guide his decisions, causing some significant inner turmoil between what he feels and what he’s been taught is right.

My Take: To be honest, this book was extremely uncomfortable to read at times.  As an adult, I can see how Twain was using the book as catalyst for social commentary, but even so, the rampant racism and blatant cruelty that prevails throughout the text was a tough pill for me to swallow.  Of course, in a story where one of the main characters is a runaway slave, I was prepared for some of that, but there were few subpopulations that weren’t denigrated at some point, including a scene where con artists pretend to use some rudimentary form of sign language in order to run a scam – just one of many scenes where I physically cringed while reading. In addition to being uncomfortable, this book was also difficult to read because of all the dialect Twain uses.  He even writes an explanation at the beginning of the novel of all the different dialects he included.  Because the language was so unconventional – and written phonetically – I essentially had to read the novel “out loud” to hear what the characters were actually saying, as it was difficult to interpret on sight alone.  This book required a LOT of concentration…  For example, I just opened up to a random page and here is a direct quote: “‘I tuck out en shin down de hill, en ‘spec to steal a skiff ‘long de sho’ som’ers ‘bove de town…'”  As hard as that was to read, it was even tougher to type – autocorrect does NOT like Twain’s use of dialect! This story is a classic for a reason – the story definitely makes its point.  I love a book that keeps you thinking and questioning humanity and our greater purpose.  This is not a book that I would refer to someone for some light (or necessarily enjoyable) reading, but I think it’s a book everyone should read at some point for discussion and perspective.  For that reason, I think it serves a different purpose on this list than others, but deserves its spot regardless.

* The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (new read) – As soon as I saw “the list” of YA books we have now committed to reading, I knew this book was going to be one of the first new reads for me.  This is the first book (“Book the First”) in the A Series of Unfortunate Events… series.  I had heard about these from kids at school and knew they had made a movie from it.  Other than that, and the information I gathered from the series title, I admit I knew little to nothing about the actual plotline, etc. However, I was intrigued and had wanted to read them for a while, so now seemed like a perfect time – especially after spending almost the entire month wading through Huck Finn!

The_Bad_BeginningBeing the first book in a series, A Bad Beginning had the important job of introducing the readers to all the main characters and providing their backstory for those characters.  In this case, we meet the Baudelaire siblings – Violet (14), Klaus (12), and Sunny (infant) – and learn about the tragedy that led to them becoming orphans.  For a storyline that revolves around these children as orphans, however, we are given minimal information about their lives prior to their parents’ death.  I found that surprising, but did appreciate that the “action” didn’t take forever to come around.  Regardless, after losing everything they’ve ever know, the children are forced to live with their uncle, Count Olaf, in a digesting, dilapidated house on the “other side of town.”  This is where I began waiting for the story to turn around… Count Olaf is an awful man, whose singular goal seems to be to get ahold of the Baudelaires’ inherited fortune – by whatever means necessary.  I assumed that, with such a forthright and obvious villain, there would be some change in circumstances that would change his heart and the seemingly heartless man would learn to love and care for his long-lost, orphaned relatives.  Well, {spoiler alert} that doesn’t happen.  The author warns you from the beginning – this is not a happy story and there is no happy ending.  On that note, I was not disappointed.

My Take:  Oh my…  I have such mixed feelings about this book.  Yes, it was entertaining.  It held my interest and was easy to read.  I can see why the kids have enjoyed it.  The plot moves quickly and doesn’t dawdle on insignificant details.  However, I thought the character development was definitely lacking.  Aside from feeling sorry for the siblings, and the obligatory interest I had in them as children, there was nothing in this book that made me really care about them.  Again, I was rooting for them because they were, obviously, the good guys, and also because they were kids going up against a big, bad adult, but I was never attached to them as characters.

My bigger issue, however, was with some of the content in this book.  There were several situations in this book that seemed completely inappropriate for a children’s (or young adult) book.  Part of that was crucial to the plot, so I won’t divulge that here (on the off chance that you will choose to read this book later), but that was the part that baffled me even more…  The part I considered most inappropriate was not some throw-away scene – it was a crucial plot point, which meant the author had to intentionally design the entire book around something I think should never have been mentioned.

This is the first book on the list that I am going to say doesn’t belong.  I won’t be reading it to my children – that’s for sure!

So… who else has read these books?  What were your thoughts?  Do they belong?

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One thought on “March ’15 Update – Ashley

  1. I won’t give away too much of my thought, since obviously I will eventually read it myself. I made it through half of the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series, and finally had to quit because they left me with such a depressing feeling!

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