Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

boy_striped_pajamasThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a book about a 9 year-old named Bruno, who is forced by his father, a commander in the German army, to move from his five story mansion in Berlin, to a house in the middle of nowhere called simply, “Out-with”.  From there, Bruno slowly learns about what we now call the Holocaust. He can see the concentration camp in the far distance from his mundane bedroom window and his curiosity leads him directly to the center of the unfathomable.  From wild adventures in a slave camp to a run in with an unstoppable tire swing, to his friendship with a mysterious boy in striped pajamas named Shmuel, this  is a book that you won’t forget.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn history in a non-boring way.  ⚠ THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART ⚠ It has a very sad ending and contains very deep insight into life during one of histories most tragic times.  I hope that you can pick it up at your local library or bookstore as this is a life-altering read.

-Evan G., 6th grade

Book Review and Playlist: Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

never_eighteenWarning: the following contains spoilers.

For me finding a book is never an easy task, because I dislike going out of my comfort zone and taking a chance. So this book was a lucky find after hours of searching around the internet.  It  had the vibe and similarities from two of my favorite books and maybe even a third that are all pretty popular: If I Stay, Thirteen Reasons Why,  and The Fault in Our Stars.

The book Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic is the story of Austin Parkers, who is on a journey through life to close loose fences, and bring a final piece of meaning. Austin tries to live out the final duration of his life by helping some of the people that have either made an impact or touched him in some way in his life. These people are those he thinks need help and guidance, but don’t know or realize it for whatever reason. Austin makes the journey with Kaylee, the girl he loves, making stops along the way to famous places in their home of Tacoma, Washington and facing their fears.

Ultimately, the inevitable happens: due to his refusal of continuing treatment, Austin passes away from leukemia. One thing I really enjoyed about the book, that it was not centered on him having a terminal illness, but rather about him mending fences with the other characters and their relationships. It underplays the cancer; it is only really mentioned by Austin that he is indeed dying, while the other characters appear to be in a sort of denial or a strong hope everything will be all right.

My favorite part was how the author put songs at the very end, which inspired her writing and the spirit of the book. Which inspired me to name the following songs that I believe that fit the story line.

  1. I Lived – One Republic: A personal favorite for me and is one that I constantly thought of. It is exactly what I pictured Austin wanted himself and his family to picture, and be able to say. I think it also matches the tone of the book, perfectly.
  2. If I Die Young – The Band Perry: Another that describes Austin in my perspective acutely, the way they know exactly what they want. This song deals with the realization of not only dying at a young age but also, coming to turns with that just because life can be short does not make it any less valuable
  3. Not in that way – Sam Smith:  Originally I presumed this song should have been dedicated to Kaylee and her views on Austin all the way until the end. But close to the  fifteenth time I heard the song it clicked to me that behind the lyrics was a story that was a better fit for how Austin knew she would never love him in the same way he loved her
  4. Best Shot – James Young: A perfect description of the relationship or friendship shared between Austin and Kaylee. This song is about always being there for each other even when things are hard and that is one of the main themes of the story.
  5. All of the Stars – Shawn Mendes: Originally by Ed Sheeran for, “The Fault in Our Stars” this song is given a younger tone when sung by Mendes. This song really went hand in hand with the tone of the book, near the end. This song has a lot of links to death and so it holds a connection to Kaylee’s thought and feeling, especially the link to star gazing.
  6. Undone – Haley Reinhart: The song describes, how much love can tear you apart once it ends and how you feel that you will never quite recover. The lyrics are actually quite beautiful, a perfect description of how Haylee felt shortly after the loss of Austin and receiving the box and letter. She wants answers to why this happened to her and how she is supposed to move on from this tragedy.
  7. Afire love – Ed Sheeran: Another beautiful song by an artist that I admire, this song also deals with the tragedy of death. At the beginning of the song he talks about how they are slowly dying and through all this pain suffering, they are forgetting everything and everyone. Then in the middle of the song the person is no longer suffering, and the family is tied together once again through tragedy. This song is a beautiful depiction of the way death works and though there are no specific ties it really fit the book well
  8. I Will be There – Odessa: If I had to pick one song to be the theme, this would be it. This depicts how they are best friends and always there for each other. No matter what, they will be there to help you. The lyrics are simple, but the song itself is very unique from most of current day music.
  9. If Today Were Your Last Day – Nickelback: I was really impartial to putting this song in because it could easily be described as cheesy, but the lyrics just fit the text really well. It was almost as If the song was written for the book, because they are just that close. This was on key for what I believe Austin was felling in the book, when he went to everyone house.
  10. Battlefield – Lea Michele: Austin and Kaylee where never meant to be more than friends, but somewhere along the way they fell in love. Now Kaylee knows that she has to let Austin go, she needs to be strong for both of them just like he was. Peace or in this case, acceptance will only come when she lets go. What seemed like a good idea is now a battlefield, because she needs to figure out to let him go
  11. These Four Walls – Little Mix: The raw emotion that is described in this song, mixed with the beautifully written words in this book pair together exceptionally well. I believe that this is yet another perfect description of Kaylee and her emotions after losing Austin.
  12. What You Wanted- One Republic: The feel of this song is so powerful and the lyrics make it a song that never quite leaves your mind. The unconditional love that is described in only four lines gives us a glimpse at how amazing a first love can be. Something that Kaylee and Austin both got just a glimpse.
  13. All You Had To Do Was Stay – Taylor Swift: In the end Kaylee wanted nothing more than to have Austin, all he needed to do was stay. But this was realized too late, therefore it could not happen; instead she had to deal with the grief of losing him.
  14. Please Don’t Go – Barcelona: This song is so simple but in a very beautiful way, the few lyrics there are speak for themselves; painting a picture of two friends who have ultimately fallen in love but one does not notice their feelings or keeps them hidden out of fear.
  15. Come Home – One Republic: Finally, a song originally written for someone whom has been deployed to fight for their country shortly after getting engaged. When I hear this song I instantly think of someone sitting in either the rain or in the dark of night, writing the lyrics but at the same time saying them. And that is exactly what I felt like at the end of this book, and when I put the two together it just fit and gave that bit of closure.

-Shelby B., 10th grade

Book Review: The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom

hiding_placeThe book The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom is a story about surviving the Holocaust. Corrie was the daughter of a watch storekeeper, her father, with her sister, Betsie ten Boom in Holland. The ten Booms lived above their shop. Their lives changed when they accepted the risk of hiding Jews after Germany took over their home country. Corrie was assisted with the concealment of the Jews from a contractor who built them a secret. The room was located in Corrie’s bedroom, and the contractor informed that it will be the last place they will look. He also installed an alarm.

While resting in her bed with the flu, Corrie heard the alarm go off. After, the police entered and took Corrie, Betsie, and their father to concentration camp. The authority found out that they were keeping Jews in their home. Now Corrie and her family have to go through the struggle and hardships while trying to live at the camp. All Corrie has is her sister, father, and her faith in Jesus.

I really enjoyed this book because it described how live was during the Holocaust. The book was very descriptive. I was highly interested in this story and how the author explained her experience from entering and to being released from the concentration camp. I would recommend this to ages 12 and up. I hope you read this book.

-Samantha S., 8th grade

Authors We Love: John Steinbeck

grapes_of_wrathJohn Steinbeck has become one of my all-time favorite authors, after I was first exposed to his novels in middle school. He is one of the most popular American novelists, whose works have had a lasting effect on American people, even today.

I have recently read The Grapes of Wrath, which is one of Steinbeck’s most renowned works, earning the illustrious Pulitzer Prize. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers who are driven from their home in Oklahoma  by drought, economic hardship, agricultural changes and bank foreclosures. Trapped in the Dust Bowl with little chance in escaping their unfortunate situation, the Joads set out for California with the hope of new opportunities. The Grapes of Wrath portrays the economic hardships of people during the Great Depression, as well as the American dream of freedom, dignity, and a better future.

In addition to The Grapes of Wrath, I have read The Pearl, Of Mice and Men (one of my all time favorites), Cannery Row, and the East of Eden. Steinbeck’s writing style certainly makes his works intriguing and his use of figurative language, especially imagery, helps the reader to imagine the vivid scenes and time period of his stories. Through characterization, readers are able to relate to his unique characters and feel their burdens and everyday hardships. I especially love Steinbeck’s novels because they urge me to read in between the lines and think more deeply about the true meaning of his stories.

Although his writing may seem simpler and easier to understand than most classics, I have found that each of his novels convey a different theme and underlying motives are hidden throughout his plots. Each time I reread a novel, for instance, I am able to come across new ideas I had never noticed before, making my reading experience more interesting and thrilling. John Steinbeck is certainly an influential author, who is able to transport you to new time periods and places through the power of his words. I definitely recommend his novels to students in middle school searching for a good classic, and urge those above the ages of thirteen to continue to read and appreciate the works of the wonderful John Steinbeck!

-Kaylie W., 10th grade

Author Visit: Tui T. Sutherland

On Friday, November 7th, author Tui T. Sutherland paid a visit to the Mission Viejo Library. She has written many books under different pen names, and came to talk about them.

Probably the most well-known of all the series she has worked on are Warriors and Seekers, as she is part of the group writing under the Erin Hunter pen name, and for a longer time worked as their editor.

She also has written a series of her own, the Wings of Fire series. Wings of Fire stars five dragonets who are part of a special prophecy. So far, there are five books in the series, and a sixth, Moon Rising, which we got to hear a special preview of, is coming out in late December. It focuses on a dragonet named Moonwatcher, who inherited the power of prophecy, and has received a new prophecy that will change everything.

Tui has also written one book in the Spirit Animals series, Against the Tide. Spirit Animals is a unique series in that the authors receive a plotline and then can take it in whatever direction they like. Other authors that have written in the Spirit Animals series include Brandon Mull, Shannon Hale, and Marie Lu.

Another series of hers was written cooperatively with her sister, Kari Sutherland. The Menagerie is about a secret zoo in Wyoming that is discovered by a boy when six griffin cubs mysteriously escape. There are two other books in the series, Dragon on Trial, the second book, and Krakens and Lies, which is coming out in March 2015.

Many people love the books that Tui T. Sutherland writes, myself included. She has a certain way with writing that entrances you and absorbs you into her world. Many thanks that this amazing author was able to take time out of her day to visit all her fans and talk about her books.

-Linna C.,

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Disney_BigHero6_Poster_BaymaxThis past weekend, I got a chance to see Big Hero 6, a Disney movie about a 13 year old robotics prodigy named Hiro, who, after his brother, Tadashi, dies in a freak accident, is left with Tadashi’s health care robot, Baymax. After Hiro’s microbots (little robots) are stolen, and it is discovered that they are being used to do evil, Hiro and Baymax, with the help of Tadashi’s college friends, set out to find the man responsible for Tadashi’s death and the microbots’ evil escapades.

At first, Big Hero 6 may seem like a basic kid’s movie- a battle between good and evil. However, Big Hero 6 carries some more subtle, deeper messages. One of the themes of the movie is the message of the power of friendship. Big Hero 6 shows that by working together, even the biggest of problems can be solved. The movie also leans away from gender bias. Two of Tadashi’s friends are girls, and they are equally important and smart as the boys in the movie. Big Hero 6 also sets up a diverse cast of characters, characters of different races and from different backgrounds.

Big Hero 6 shows that decisions made in the quest for revenge and in anger are never good. When Hiro tries to get revenge from the man who killed Tadashi by taking out Baymax’s health care chip and leaving in his fighting chip, things go wrong. The movie also supports the idea of innovation and robotics, two things that can help society.
The main message in the movie is that those who are loved can always be remembered. When Tadashi dies, Hiro does not think this way. However, Baymax shows him that loved ones can always be remembered. This causes Hiro to think differently about things.

This movie is great for people of all ages, go see it as soon as possible.

Two series of books that I recommend to those who liked this movie:

  • The Moomintroll series, by Tove Jansson. Although these books may be hard to find, the Moomintrolls have the same kind of cuddly appearance and personality as Baymax.
  • Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz. Just like Big Hero 6, these book are packed full of action and adventure.

-Will R., 10th grade

Book Review: Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

smells_like_dogIn the world of literature, there are so many authors out there. But, there are a few dozen authors who will blow your mind, and one of them is Suzanne Selfors. The way Suzanne writes is simply amazing. First, her books are a fusion between comedy and seriousness. Especially in Smells Like Dog.

This is definitely my favorite book written by her. In Smells Like Dog, Homer, who is a farm boy, gets a gift from Uncle Drake– a dog! Except, the dog doesn’t do anything. Really he does nothing. But, Uncle Dranke, before he died, left a dog to Homer, which he called his most treasured possession. So what should he do with it? The dog just doesn’t want to do anything at all.

Until… you’ll have to read the book to know.

Out of 5 I would rate this story a definite 5. Also, out of 5, I would rate the author a 6, because it is very hard to find a great author. Thanks for reading, and please give comments below!

-Satej B., 8th grade