The Rundown- March/April ’17

It took me a loooong time to get through this first book, hence the doubled-up post.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reread) Huckleberry_Finn_book

There were two things I remembered about this book: the majority of the book is written in dialect and the rampant use of the “n-word.” The combination of those two made it a difficult book to get through, not to mention it’s just plain LONG.

This book is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but there’s no need to have read that in order to be able to follow this. There’s a succinct recap in the first chapter that gives all the pertinent information.

Huck Finn runs away when his father shows up back in his life without the best of intentions. He runs across a neighbor’s slave, Jim, who is trying to escape his life as well. They decide to help each other on the way to freedom.

It’s a journey story with a lot of stops along the way. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, which becomes more difficult when they are referred to with multiple monikers. As they go through different territories along the Mississippi, the dialect changes with each new place and Twain uses it all. I had to slow down a lot and hear the voice in my head to be able to understand what they were saying!

VERDICT: In general, it’s a decent story. It has a good premise and there are some important themes. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I can’t think of a good enough reason not to keep it on the list, so… let’s keep it.

**Check out Ashley’s review of it HERE**

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (new read) 

91DRp5i5J-LThis is another of those books I’ve heard of my whole life, but had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve read it, I wish I had know the premise, because my elementary-aged self would have LOVED it. As it is now, I still think it’s a fun book!

Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse who has four children to take care of. It’s the time of year when the family has to move their house for planting season, but her youngest son, Timothy, is ill. She finds her way to a group of creatures called the rats of NIMH, who help her come up with a plan.

When I first started reading, I got bored pretty quickly. As the problem begins to unfold though, it quickly became more interesting. One of the best parts of the book was finding out about the rats of NIMH– who they were, what they did, and how they came to be there. I can’t give any of that away though!

VERDICT: Once again, I don’t know if this is really a “young adult” book– I mean, can any Newbery winner be considered one? However, I really enjoyed it as a unique fantasy adventure. Definitely recommended!

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March ’16 Update – Ashley

At this point, my blog posts may seem arbitrary and haphazard, but if you look closely, I think you’ll notice a trend… My posts fall very much in line with when we have breaks from school – Thanksgiving/Christmas, Spring Break, Summer Break.  That, my friends, is no coincidence!  That being said, I’ve had a very successful Spring Break 2016, reading-wise!

* The Giver by Lois Lowry (reread) – This is a book that I actually read as a “young adult” myself and remember loving.  I read it again in my Children’s Literature class at USC and still loved it.  As a matter of fact, several years ago for Christmas, I loaned my grandmother a bag of young adult books that I thought she’d enjoy reading.  She has always “passed down” books to me that she read and thought I’d like, and I wanted to do the same.  I used my “unique” love of YA literature to share some books with her that she had never read.  This was the first book I put in that bag.the giver

The Giver introduces us to a society where things seem to run like clockwork.  Every person serves a specific purpose, performs specific tasks, and lives in a very specific way.  Everything in this society is decided by “The Elders” – including who you marry, which child you will raise, and which position you will serve within the community.  In this society, there is no pain or suffering of any kind.  No one questions the way things are… until Jonas receives his job assignment as Receiver.  This will make Jonas the one person in the community who holds the memories of what life was like before “Sameness.”  In his training sessions with the former Receiver, now The Giver, Jonas experiences memories filled with the most wonderful feelings and sensations – weather, happiness, love.  But he also bears the burden of receiving less-desirable memories, like war and starvation.  Jonas begins to wonder if living this life of “Sameness” is really worth all the sacrifices that came with it.

My Take: One of my all-time favorite books!  Without question, this book belongs on any and all lists for young adult readers.  This is the book that first exposed me to the world of young adult, dystopian novels – still my favorite genre!  The world created by Lois Lowry seems so comforting at first, so idyllic, but that image is shattered as we delve deeper in Jonas’ training and realize at what cost this society was created.  As a reader, I feel increasingly disturbed at the injustice that these people were facing unknowingly.  In general, I do not like having things decided for me – I like to make decisions for myself.  Imagining a world where that is not tolerated sets me on edge.  In a weird way, this book seems to have foreshadowed the generation of children we are now meeting.  As a society, we are becoming less and less comfortable with allowing our children to feel pain (physical or otherwise).  We don’t want anyone to feel too special or excluded, so we give everyone a trophy.  We are so terrified of our children making a mistake that we tell them every move to make, never allowing them to figure it out on their own.  We are raising a generation that can not think for themselves.  Are we heading for a world where we blindly accept what others tell us what to do and think?  Where we are so afraid of pain and failure that we make joy and success obsolete?  Food for thought…

** Look here for Tiffany’s review of the same book. **


* The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (new read) –
 I’ve been saving this one for a good, long break because a) the text itself is longer than many others on this list and b) I was pretty sure it was going to be good one and I didn’t want to have to rush through it.  Well, it was a good one, but I didn’t need to worry about waiting for a long break because it ended up being an (essentially) 24-hour read!

LightningThief2014The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and chronicles the story of how young Percy Jackson from NYC came to discover his status as a demigod, or half-blood.  This discovery leads to many new adventures, filled with a cast straight out of Greek mythology.  Along the way, Percy meets new friends and learns things about himself that he never imagined possible.  Ultimately, at just twelve years old, Percy is tasked with preventing an all-out war between the three most powerful gods: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.  Will Percy, with the help of his friends,  be able to muster up the courage necessary to undertake such an important mission?

My Take:  I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.  I will, without a doubt, be purchasing the rest of this series ASAP!  It was very well-written yet accessible, which doesn’t always go hand-in-hand.  I definitely think this book earned it’s spot on the list, for a number of reasons.  First of all, I think any book that makes people, especially young people, want to read is worth its weight in gold.  That’s what Harry Potter did for our generation and I could see that being the case with Percy Jackson as well.  Secondly, I see endless value in this book – both academically and personally.  Reading it made me want to go back and reread all those Greek myths that I read back in middle school.  I could easily imagine this book (and perhaps series) being used in classrooms everywhere – the possibilities are nearly infinite.  The characters are well-developed, the plot provides ample opportunities for discussion and comparisons to traditional Greek lore.  That being said, I could also easily imagine this being a great just-for-fun read also!  Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read so far in this challenge – HIGHLY recommended!

The Rundown- March ’16

519HKX9M69L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (new read)

I don’t feel like there are many people who don’t know anything about this book, so I will make the synopsis brief.

Anne Frank had to flee her home and go into hiding with her family when the Nazis invaded Holland during World War II. They spent over two years living in what came to be known as “The Secret Annexe.” This book is the collection of entries from her diary that she received on her thirteenth birthday, which just happened to be about three weeks or so before they went into hiding.

There are many things that struck me about this book. The first — how eloquent Anne was. She was so young, but such a talented writer. Her vocabulary, phrasing and overall ideas about ideas reached well beyond her short years. On the flip side though, many times she wrote about things you would expect from most teenage girls: love and longing, movie stars, friendship, the day to day. She often wrote about feeling that she had two personalities, which was reflected in the diary.

While some entries were difficult to make it through, other days had me flipping feverishly to see what was going to happen. As optimistic as her worldview was, at the same time, it was as if she knew she wasn’t going to make it. Her last few entries were so reflective and a perfect conclusion to this life cut short.

I was very grateful that the book included a multiple page afterword to let the reader know what happened to all of the “characters,” and the impact that the book has had since publication.

It’s shocking to me that I have never read this book before now. I think it should be required reading in middle or high school during  a study of World War II. I can’t think of many other primary sources that hold the impact that this book does.

VERDICT: Thinking about what this book actually is, it’s kind of a weird thing to include, as it was never something intended for publication. However, it’s actually more well written than some of the other things I’ve read thus far. I think it should be included on the list as its historical impact cannot be matched by another young adult.

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?

The Rundown- March ’15

Matilda by Roald Dahl (reread)

61K2r4blw5LI don’t remember the first or last time I read Matilda, but based on my movie tie-in cover, I bought it sometime in 1996. Roald Dahl was one of my favorite authors as a child (yes, this book definitely stretches that “young adult” label), so I know I read this several times.

Many of the details from this story were pretty fuzzy to me, so I was glad to get a chance to read it again. Matilda is a neglected child, whose parents are completely self-involved and downright mean to their daughter. She has to find ways to cope, so she spends time at the library reading tons of books. Once Matilda begins attending school, she is faced with an awful headmaster (Ms. Trunchbull) that is cruel to the students, especially the youngest ones. Without giving too much away, Matilda discovers a special ability that her teacher, Ms. Honey, helps her use to try and get revenge on Ms. Trunchbull.

The first thing that struck me as I started the book is that the parents were much more vile than I remembered. Rather than being comically evil, they are just mean and terrible people! Actually, almost all of the adults in this book are awful, except for Ms. Honey. Dahl uses their names to help the reader immediately know who is good or bad. The aforementioned Ms. Honey is exactly as her name suggests, and Matilda’s parents are the Wormwoods. I love those details!

This book will definitely appeal to kids, especially those who feel they have been wronged by the adults in their lives. I hope they don’t get any ideas though…

** I’ve seen the movie multiple times, and while it is a great movie, they add quite a few scenes that aren’t in the book, particularly near the end.

VERDICT: This is a toss-up for me. It’s a good book, but I don’t know if I think it’s one of the best of all time, especially when a superior Roald Dahl book also made the list. Read it and find out for yourself!

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson (new read)403px-jacobihavelovedbookcover

I have a confession to make—for my entire life, I thought that this was an old-timey romance novel, and that is why I never had an interest in reading it. Look at some of the covers out there and tell me you don’t think the same thing! Turns out, the title is actually a scriptural reference to the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau. (Romans 9:13 is the direct verse).

The book takes place in the 1940s on an island on the Chesapeake Bay. Caroline and Louise are twins, with Caroline drawing all the attention because she is prettier, more talented, etc. The story is essentially about Louise trying to step out from Caroline’s shadow and making an identity for herself. When the story begins, the girls are about 13 or 14, but by the end, about 10-12 years have passed.

I found this story difficult to get into at first. There were a lot of fishing/crabbing references, as that was the occupation of the father. Louise and her friend, Call, helped as well. Since I know nothing of that world, I struggled through those chapters, mind wandering and all. About a third of the way through the book, Patterson introduced a character, “The Captain,” that was returning home to Rass Island after a long stint away. That livened up the plot for a while. As his part in the story lessened though, so did my interest.

By the end of the book, I was pretty ready to just be done. For a “young adult” book, the amount of time that passed in the story was kind of odd. As I read about Louise in her 20s, as she became a mother and midwife, some of the passages and phrases just didn’t seem that appropriate for the age of the reader. This book also won a Newberry Medal, which I admit I am somewhat surprised by.

VERDICT: Maybe I just couldn’t relate to this book (being the oldest child), but I could definitely have gone through life just fine without reading it. As such, this is one I would have kept off the list.

What do y’all think? Have you read either of these books? Should they have made the list?