The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of my favorite books ever written. It was published in 2006, by John Boyne, and is set during World War II, at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. It is narrated by Bruno, the 9-year-old son of a Nazi Commandant. Bruno’s innocent perspective makes the novel absolutely gut-wrenching, as he has no idea what exactly is happening beyond the fence surrounding Auschwitz.

Bruno’s father has a high station in the Nazi hierarchy, and he is on very close terms with Fuhrer Hitler. In fact, Hitler has Bruno’s father move out of Berlin and to Poland so he can oversee tings at Auschwitz, much to Bruno’s dismay. The new house at Auschwitz is old and gloomy, not at all like his previous home in Berlin. With nothing to do except explore, Bruno makes a number of startling discoveries that, in turn, lead to a massive turn of events.

Overall, this book is a roller-coaster of emotions. Readers will laugh at Bruno’s adorable perceptions of things that we understand with ease, cry at the mistakes he makes because he doesn’t know any better. John Boyne expertly wraps the reader up in the plot, writing complex, dynamic characters that the reader can sympathize with. This book is just an amazing read, and if you’re looking for a novel that will enrich and educate as well as entertain you, your search has met its end.

-Arushi S. 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids is exactly its title.  I, however, found that I had a difficult time enjoying the book.  Because I am what you may call a “Do it Yourselfer” I like to develop my own practices and ways of going about things by experiencing the world for myself. I would rather teach myself how to paint rather than take lessons from a professional in order to develop my own unique style.

In the same sense, when reading, I analyze it my way. Foster may think that he is merely helping young readers learn to see the signs in literature that lead us to understand it for themselves (though had that been his true intention the title of his book might have been something like How to Read Literature For Yourself) but in reality, he is molding young minds to see literature as he does. The way that I see it, the more people who read this book, the closer we are to a dystopian thought process.

Literature is an art form, much like painting, music or drama, and should be treated as such.  Foster subtly suggests that it is, in fact, an equation that can only be solved one way, his way, such as a computer program. Of course, like anybody would, Foster denies this, claiming that he is only showing you that the signs exist. If this were true, he could have written a persuasive essay instead of a book about what these sights mean. Somebody reading this book is obviously struggling in the field of English. Does he really expect them to have the ambition to interpret the sigh an on their own? No, they will simply take his word for it. If Foster says pasta is a protein, they will blindly believe it.  Being an outspoken advocate for individuality, this book struck quite a chord with me.  I think that everyone’s own ideas are beautiful and that symbols don’t always mean one thing, that we should have conversations about what a work of literature means to us, not settle on one theme.  The quarrel over a scene’s outcome, not just accept the way it turned out to be morally correct if you feel that it is not.  We must stay true to ourselves and our view of the world based off of our morals, not let our minds be re-arranged to match others.  On a more positive note, I must amend Foster on the wide range of books, short stories, etc. in which he uses as examples to express his thoughts.  After reading this book, I found numerous new titles to explore.

If you are familiar with the works of Rick Riordan or John Green, you will find that Foster’s writing style and tone reflects there’s.  Perhaps this is for the audience he presumably is addressing, which the book recommends for 8 to 12-year-olds.  Some may be exasperated by my comparing of these authors to one who wrote a book aimed at that age group, so allow me to elaborate:  Foster writes in a laid back, childlike manner in order to appeal to the age group as Riordan and Green write in a laid back manner, because, well, the characters that tell their stories are still (to some extent) children.  I am not trying to poo-poo that style of writing, I am merely making a comparison.  If you are attracted to that style, you may find this book a refreshing alternative to the likes of Call of the Wild or Oliver Twist (not to cast shadows on those either).  

Calling all Hermiones:  You’ll have a field day correcting some of Foster’s mistakes about Greek Mythology.  I would not go as far to say that I know everything about everything when it comes to Greek Mythology, after all, there is probably still more crumbling under the weight of the ruins that lay atop them like a crown.  However, I know enough to know that Foster either got a few points wrong, or one of us took a wrong turn in our time machines back to Ancient Greece.  If you are a free thinker: never read this book, ever.  It is a waste of your time and your beautiful mind.  If you could use a little help in the good old subject of English, you may find this book informative.  Either way, like any book, take it with a grain of salt.  

-Ainsley H. 

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep tells the story of adult Danny Torrance. Traumatized by the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel, he’s developed alcoholic tendencies like his father; however, when he settles in the town of Frazier, New Hampshire, Dan stops drinking and begins working at a hospice, helping dying patients pass on peacefully with his strong psychic abilities, or “shine,” earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

While he settles down, a girl named Abra Stone is born, and her shine is even more powerful than Dan’s. They sense and understand each other from when she is very young, all the way through most of her adolescence. 

They don’t see a need to actually meet until The True Knot, a group of people who feed off of shine, usually children’s, to keep themselves immortal, becomes aware of Abra’s immense power and comes for her. Dan and Abra together, along with a few friends in on the secret of the shine, work together to end The True Knot forever.

Dan’s character development was one of the first things that struck me deeply. No matter how much he swore to himself that he would never become like his father, he drinks and drinks, traumatized by the Overlook Hotel and afraid of his abilities. However, unlike his father, he realizes what he’s doing, and mends himself, using his abilities for good. 

Dan’s relationship with Abra was also an incredibly interesting element of this story. Despite never meeting before, the two psychics speak to each other like old friends when they actually meet, and Dan quickly takes on a fatherly role, helping Abra control her abilities. From the beginning, Abra is fundamentally good; though she makes mistakes and badly estimates some decisions, her actions are always for the betterment of others’ lives. 

After reading both this novel and The Shining, I would say that the sequel is more advanced and interesting than the original, although The Shining was crucial to setting the stage for Dan’s development and life. Doctor Sleep tells of the impact of psychological trauma, recovery from that, the use of power for good, and the development of family independent of blood relation. Some elements of the story are still chilling to the bone, as is Stephen King’s norm, but the novel overall develops the experience of life in addition to just the horror.

-Adelle W. 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I read this book in eighth grade as a reading requirement and at first, I thought it was relatively childish and boring. Nevertheless, the more I read about it the more that I thought this is an amazing book. Through reading this book, I think the biggest thing that I learned is friendship, family and the gap between rich and poor.

Greasers and Socials are two rival groups, the former representing the poor and the latter rich. Although Greasers are poor, their friendship seems to be unwavering. Their relationship is not built upon any foundation of money, social status, or family background. But merely that we all share a similar interest and intend to achieve it. For one thing, if one Greaser is in danger, all the others would risk their lives to help. But for Socials, they would just run away afraid if their parents should find out they would stop supporting them.

The Socials seem like they are enjoying their lives and they despise the Greasers, but in my opinion, they in some uncanny way also want to be like them. They were born and raised in well-off families, the education they received requires them to be aloof towards anybody who isn’t on the same social level as them. However, I believe in some way they also want to make friends who really care about them and wouldn’t just desert them if their parents’ company went bankrupt or something like that. So deep down, I think there is a piercing desperation and loneliness both from the fake worldliness they have to confront every day and the neglection from their always busy and snobbish parents.

-Coreen C. 

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also free to download from Overdrive

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Although this movie released in May, I didn’t see it in theaters because the feedback wasn’t all that stellar. In fact, I only got around to watching it today, and only because my sister called in a favor I owed her.

Despite the mostly-negative feedback, I was kind of excited to watch it, since I’m a fan of Ryan Reynolds. I don’t know much about Pokemon, I must admit, and I have never played any form of it. All I know is the theme song and a couple of characters. However, even with my very limited knowledge, the movie was great.

It was a little confusing, and had a couple of plot holes, but nothing that couldn’t be ignored. Although it was not an Oscar-worthy piece of art, and the predictable plot and less-than-perfect CGI were questionable, I enjoyed it, and so did the rest of my family. It was funny and lighthearted, perfect for a family movie night of a laid-back night with friends.

The characters were dynamic, and the plot was cute, and predictable to a certain extent. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by the horrible plot twists gifted to viewers by Marvel. Either way, the movie managed to make it onto my good list despite a few flaws. If you are looking for an airy and light film to watch with a family of friends, or both, this may be it for you. It’s funny, dynamic, and has a really happy ending.

-Arushi S.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ranger’s Apprentice series revolves around a boy named Will, an orphan taken in as a castle ward at Redmont fief, one of the fifty fiefs in Araluen. This first book follows his acceptance into the respected (and feared) Ranger Corps, the highly capable unseen protectors of the kingdom. As an orphan with no last name or memory of who his parents were, Will is set, along with his fellow wards, to be chosen by one of the Craftmasters and trained in service of the kingdom. 

However, Will’s skill set doesn’t fit any of the apprenticeships that his peers are chosen for. After Will climbs the tower up to the Baron’s office to try and find out his fate and the mysterious Ranger Halt catches him, he’s told that he would be most suitable for Ranger training. He learns to use the Ranger’s choice weapons, the bow, a throwing knife, and the specially made saxe knife, and learns the art of unseen movement, the key to a Ranger’s job in protecting his assigned fief. 

Meanwhile, Morgarath, the lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, exiled from Araluen, plots his revenge against the kingdom. Having been planning for 15 years, he begins to mobilize his army of monstrous Wargals and unleashes the terrifying Kalkara, huge beasts of war that can freeze a man with their eyes. When word of this gets to Araluen, the Ranger Corps are put on high alert. Will, Halt, and another Ranger, Gilan, set off to track and kill the Kalkara. The book ends with Araluen mobilizing for war with Morgarath.

In addition to Will’s journey towards becoming a Ranger, I was particularly taken with his interaction with Horace, one of the castle wards and one of Will’s long-time bullies. Horace is accepted to Battleschool, training to be a knight; however, since he was alienated as an orphan, many of the other knight apprentices begin to bully him, causing Horace, in turn, to lash out at Will. After Halt gets rid of the Battleschool bullies, the two boys reconcile their differences and become fast friends; they see past their conflict and find a true friend in each other. I learned something crucial from this: that hostility is often rooted in something that can be solved with listening and understanding.

I love this series because it can be enjoyed immensely by anyone of any age; Flanagan transformed stories composed for his son into 12 artfully written novels of heroism, humor, and friendship. I highly recommend this book and this series to anyone in need of a fun and satisfying read.

-Adelle W.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Authors We Love: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow was born on June 10, 1915, and passed away on April 5, 2005. He was born in Lachine, a small village located in Quebec, Canada and immigrated with his parents to Chicago, United States with he was eight. Due to this reason, Hyde Park, Chicago was the backdrop of a lot of his famous works because he was the most familiar with it.

Both of his parents were from Russia and were very strict Jews. They wished Saul Bellow could be a rabbi or a violinist playing in church when he grows up. However, he couldn’t overcome his passion for writing and therefore did not relinquish to these two occupations even when his mother passed away. He went to Chicago University and later switched to Northwestern University because he felt the former disliked Jews and therefore mistreated them. Bellow did his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin.

As a Novel Prize Literature winner, Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, and the only writer to win the National Medal of arts three times, Bellow in his entire life has composed a lot of works. These include Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, Mr.Sammler’s Planet, Humboldt’s Gift, The Dean’s December, More Die of Heartbreak, A Theft, The Bellarose Collection, The Actual, and Ravelstein. He also wrote a lot of plays and some nonfiction as well.

One thing which marks his unique style is his philosophical views embedded amongst the paragraphs and in characters’ dialogues. It provides on his insight of life, death, marriage and other themes which he values as important. Although some critics argue that this style of approach can be very elusive and a form of digression, I thought if sociology and anthropology are vital in Bellow’s life, he should put it down to let people who he really is.

-Coreen C. 

The works of Saul Bellow are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.