Monday, April 27, 2009

Davita's Harp (1984)

Grownups very often do not realize how much their concerns and worries affect their young children. In this book by Chaim Potok, Ilana Davita Chandal is the daughter of Communist party members in New York in the 1930s. They fervently speak and write about the growing threat of Facism in Europe, specifically Spain. Surrounded by such passionate dedicated adults, it's no wonder that Ilana Davita focuses on two permanent items that follow her family through frequent moves; a door harp and a photograph of horses on a beach. The door harp (I have to have one of these!!!) sounds tones on stretched wires when the front door is opened.

As she grows, and the situation in Europe becomes more and more deadly, she becomes attracted to the rituals of the Jewish religions and the peace people find in them. She is obviously very bright and her parents are the type that never talk down to children and always answer their questions, even the really hard ones.

"My mother had tried to explain it to me, but I could not grasp it. Rebels agains Reds, Fascists against Communits, aristocrats and middle class agains workers, landowners against peasants. A brutally divided world. It seemed as if an ocean of blood had rolled across that land. None of my classmates talked about the war; few even knew about it. But somewhere in Spain was my father amidst bombs and shells and burned-out villages and fields littered with dead horses and human corpses. I was able to understand many of the words that I read in his articles, but I could not imagine a ruined village or a field of dead hroses and men. After a while I stopped reading my father's stories when I was alone at home at night."

Her mother was a Jewish immigrant and her father a New England Protestant but neither practiced their religions (being good Communists). She continued to be interested in Judaism, even learning Hebrew on her own, and attended a Hebrew school. No gentle molding of a young woman here. She was formed by world events of epic proportion.

I highly recommend this book to anyone tired of books about who's dating whom and individual's problems with drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. This will open their eyes to the possibility that there is more out there affecting them and they need to lift their eyes and focus on the bigger picture.
My rating for this book: +++++

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Full House (2009)

I've been waiting for quite a while for the third book in the Make Lemonade trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff and I was not disappointed. When I put a mylar cover on the dust cover I discovered a surprise about the art which is not apparent in the face-on view you see here. When the cover is completely open it is apparent that both girls are pregnant!
Anyway, LaVaughn is still attending school, pushed and supported by her single mother, and babysitting Jolly's two darling children, Jilly and Jeremy. Jolly is a very young single mother trying to make a good life for her children by getting her GED.
LaVaughn is now a senior in high school and the goal of attending college is so close she can almost taste it. She is accepted into a program called WIMS.

"Every girl here is from a poor school
and this doctor walks in
as if we're the best roomful of students ever.
She puts the binder on the lecture stand
and smiles at every one of us,
a startling smile,
I can feel it like a beam
when it comes to me and moves along.
Women in Medical Science.
These four words can connect you
with the rest of your lives, girls.' Her voice.
Like a deep bell, promise, expectation.
She looks across the whole room and back again.
'Note that this is not a large group.
Fourty-five, to be exact.
You are preparing to give your lives to medicine.
And what is medicine,
what do we devote ourselves to here?
Preservation of life,
restitution of health. That is our mission.'
The lump in my throat comes and goes.
I think it is because
I might fail this thing."

So speaks Dr. Moore, a dedicated neurosurgeon who has organized a medical school primer for high school girls to entice them and give them a boost into the field of medicine. LaVaughn is riveted to every word but something starts to creep into her mind, something about the doctor that reminds her of someone, mannerisms that she has seen before. Could she be Jolly's mother? To add to her many fields of focus, one of her best friends is pregnant.
Wolff has given us another novel in verse about her protaganist who has her goal in reach and still has time for her friends and mother. I have no doubt that LaVaughn will continue through college and achieve a position in the medical field. I would love to be at her graduation.
My rating for this book: +++++

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fly on the Wall (2006)

After a trilogy of books with magicians and monsters, I thought I would come back to reality. Well, almost.
E. Lockhart's book takes place in the Manhattan School for Arts and Music and we meet Gretchen Yee, a half-Chinese girl whose parents announce they are getting a divorce then leave her alone for a week (Dad has business in Hong Kong and Mom goes on a trip to the Caribbean).
They always warn you that you get what you wish for but Gretchen makes an offhand wish to her friend, Katya, anyway.
"Just tell me," sighs Katya. "What do you wish?"
"I wish I was fly on the wall of the boys' locker room," I say.
The next morning finds Gretchen clinging to the wall of the boys' locker room with four more legs than she went to bed with and a set of compound eyes and wings! I will leave it to you to imagine what she observed there over a span of several days, and what she learned about the boys from her school gives her a whole new perspective of their lives and her place in the high school.
There is a lot of humor in this book (as you can well imagine) but it has its moments when Gretchen learns harsh truths about the boys and their private lives.
I recommend this fast reading book with a warning about the frank discussion of boys' bodies.
My rating for this book: ++++

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3) (2006)

By far the best of the three books, Jonathan Stroud finishes the trilogy in a final confrontation between the magicians, commoners, and assorted magical beings. In each book we have learned more about the relationships between the three classes through history and here we learn more about the relationship between Ptolemy and Bartimaeus.
Nathaniel, at the age of 17, is the youngest magician at his rank in the government, thanks to the excellent work of his djinni, Bartimaeus. England is fighting a war in America and it is his job to write pamphlets to recruit commoners to fight, a harder and harder job as recruits quickly become casualties. (Those Americans) He tries to convince the government that Gladstone's staff could be used to bring the war to a quick end but it seems that someone up high has different plans for it.
The trio of Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty save England in a final battle that is not to be believed (I don't want to give anything away here).
I highly recommend this whole trilogy through to the end! Fantasy and magic fans will love it!
My rating for this book: +++++

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Golem's Eye (The Bartimaeus Trilogy Book Two) (2004)

Jonathon Stroud continues to give us an intriguing world and story in this second book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy. Now Nathaniel is given his magician name of John Mandrake (but Bartimaeus and readers still know him as Nathaniel) and is assigned to a new master, Ms. Whitwell. They are assigned to find out who or what is causing major damage to parts of London. Nathaniel calls on Bartimaeus, his djinni, to find out who the culprit is. Suspected are a group of commons called rebels since they are stealing magic items to use against the magicians.
One of these rebels is Kitty, a young lady we met in the first book. Now the chapters are from the vantage point of three different characters. We learn why Kitty hates magicians so much and learn how she became part of a gang that is instructed how to break into Westminster Abbey and pillage the tomb of one of England's magical heroes, Gladstone, for magical items buried with him.
We meet new creatures and follow Nathaniel and Bartimaeus on their quest to solve London's latest mystery. Along the way, we see how a ruling class continues to keep others at bay by using (or abusing) their "powers" and, as history proves, the ruled classes find ways to work their way out of subjugation. I'm on to the third book to see if revolution is in the wind and how Nathaniel, Bartimaeus, and Kitty make out.
My rating for this book: ++++