Book Review: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

mice“The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry…” (from “To a Field Mouse” by Robert Burns)

Of Mice and Men, whose title comes from the poem mentioned above, is a novella set during the Great Depression that describes the difficult life of workers on a ranch in California. George Milton, a small, intelligent man, and Lennie, a large man who is also mentally challenged, have formed a tight friendship and have come to depend on one another. The two men dream of one day owning their own land, with their own farm and livestock. When the pair acquires a job on a new ranch, everything seems to be going exactly as planned, until a flirtatious woman suddenly throws their lives into chaos.

In my opinion, the characters in the book are what make the plot so interesting and intriguing. George and Lennie are exact opposites; George is quick-witted, while Lennie isn’t able to comprehend as swiftly. I was specifically drawn to Lennie, due to his childlike innocence and need to please everyone around him. Lennie’s naiveté is best illustrated through his love to pet soft things, such as mice and rabbits. While Lennie does cause a lot of trouble for his partner, George can’t stand to leave him, since Lennie is such a nice person who doesn’t intend to hurt anyone. For this reason, I empathized with both of the men and wanted them to achieve their goal.

John Steinbeck is one of the most renowned American authors of the 20th century, best known for his realistic fiction works. Although the writing in Of Mice and Men is not very complex, Steinbeck is able to thoroughly describe the plot. In addition to painting a vivid image in your mind, he portrays numerous themes throughout the book such as friendship and the power of dreams and hopes. Another theme that Steinbeck depicts is the strengths and weaknesses of mankind.

Of Mice and Men is certainly one of those classics that everyone must read at least once in their lifetime. I consider it one of my favorites because of all the different plot lines, and how it displays the nature of humanity. Even though this novella is on my Top 10 Classics List, I would only recommend it to anyone eighth grade and above, due to its strong language and mature subject. However, once you have read it, I can guarantee that it will lead you to question your behavior toward people who are different, your own morals, and how the ethics of society can really make a change, good and bad, in a person’s life.

-Kaylie W., 9th grade

Book Review: The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge

lost_conspiracyOn the jungle island of Gullstruck in The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge, the people have revered and relied on prophets known as the Lost. Possessing the ability to separate their senses from their body, the Lost can see, hear, feel, and smell things hundreds of miles away. The villages are separated by massive volcanoes, so these prophets fly their senses to distant settlements to relay news. In the village of Lace, a young girl named Arilou is the only remaining Lost, taken care of by her sister Hathin. However, the close knit people guard a secret: Arilou has never communicated with them, always seeming to be far away in her own world.

When inspectors come to test her, Hathin desperately finds ways to convince them of Arilou’s abilities. Suddenly- disaster! All around the island, the Lost are found dead, except Arilou. With their livelihoods in danger, everyone turns on the Lace, destroying their village and sending the survivors fleeing. After all, the only Lost spared was that of the Lace. Now wanted fugitives, Hathin and Arilou must untangle the conspiracy entrapping their people. Traversing the haunting jungles and sacred volcanoes, the sisters and a troop of revenge seekers work to uncover the conspiracy surrounding them all.

As you have probably guessed from the title, The Lost Conspiracy is a mystery novel, which requires a slow, deliberate read to fully understand. A lot of pages are spent contemplating clues and foreshadowing. It has a fair share of action mixed in, to keep the pace moving along. A curious aspect of this book is the dilemma Hathin faces. How can she uphold the village’s pride and treasure when Arilou cannot even communicate?

Throughout the story, Hathin is constantly caring for her sister, yet losing hope as Arilou continues to be unresponsive and distant. However, what most makes The Lost Conspiracy memorable is the unique concept of the Lost. Could we imagine being able to travel anywhere in the world, unburdened by physical needs? Pick up this thrilling mystery, and satisfy your inner detective!

-Phillip X., 8th grade

Book List: Invisible Teens

Have you wanted to be invisible? I know I have. Here are a couple different teenagers born with invisibility (the not-able-to-turn-visible-at-will kind of invisibility) who know it can be either a gift… or a curse.

transparent_coverTransparent by Natalie Whipple

“The doctors don’t really know how it works, except that the mutation affects my pigment. They have a few theories, but they can’t study invisible blood or do surgery.”

For Fiona, she was gifted, as most everyone is, with a mutation. This mutation can range from her mom’s telekinesis or her brother’s ability to change how he smells. No one has ever seen her. Not even Fiona herself…

“All I know about myself is that I’m five foot eight, a hundred and forty pounds, and the owner of one rocking wardrobe. When all anyone sees is your clothing, it’s important.”

…which makes her the perfect thief for her father’s villainous schemes. When her father tries to force Fiona to kill someone, her mother knows he has gone too far. They run away to a small town in the middle of nowhere. For the first time, Fiona has a chance for a semi-normal life and realities such as friendship, that aren’t easy to make when on high alert for discovery. Because she knows her father will never stop looking, an invisible girl can’t hide forever.

invisibility_coverInvisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan

“I can never be seen, no matter how hard I try. I can be touched, but only if I concentrate. And I can always be heard, if I choose to speak. These, I suppose, are the rules of the curse.”

For Stephen, he was cursed into invisibility. He doesn’t quite know why or how to break it. If his mother knew, she never shared the information with him. She was his entire world, until she died almost a year ago. No one has ever seen him. Not even Stephen himself when he looks in the mirror. Stephen figures he’s alone, with no one else knowing of his existence besides a father known only as a phone number. So Stephen is very surprised when his new neighbor, Elizabeth, can not only see him, but treats him like a person.

“In the minutes that followed, I realize it isn’t that the curse had been broken. It’s that she’s found a way around it.”

For Elizabeth, told in alternating point of view chapters, she just wants to blend in, protect her brother, and work on writing her comics. When she meets Stephen, a boy no one else can see, she thinks she’s going crazy. But the truth that they’ll discover in the secret world of curses and spells goes deeper than either ever imagined.

-Nicole G., 10th grade

Charles Dickens Comes to Life On-Screen

Now I’m sure that many sophomores out there in the blogosphere are familiar with a certain book: A Tale of Two Cities. The author of this book, Charles Dickens, is renowned as one of the most brilliant writers of all time.

kelsey_kyle_londonConnecting back to my previous blog, I traveled to London this past summer and visited many historical sites. One of the places I ate at was the George Inn, and I learned while I was in England that Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare were known to frequent the pub and write their stories over meals. I thought that it was fascinating to be able to stand in the same building as two famous writers from about 200 years earlier.

invisible_woman_movieWhen I heard of a movie focusing on the secrets of Dickens’ life, I immediately became intrigued. I think that it would be amazing to have a famous actor/actress act out your life story in a movie! Ralph Fiennes, a well-established Hollywood actor, plays the part of both director and Charles Dickens. One of the main reasons why I think it would be interesting to see the movie is to get a better understanding of who Charles Dickens was, and how that took shape in his writing. Personally, I am finding myself enjoying his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, and although my English class has not yet finished the story, I like the plot of the story and how Dickens shares his opinion of the French Revolution of 1791 with his readers.

I think Charles Dickens was a very talented author of his time period, and his legend will live on through this new movie that reveals the secrets and tells accounts of his life.

-Kelsey H., 10th grade

Book Review and Music Pairings: Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan

_206890SchEsperanza_0.tifThe story of Esperanza Ortega is a backwards Cinderella. Esperanza Ortega lives at a ranch called El Rancho de Las Rosas (The Ranch of the Roses) with her mother, father, and grandmother. Esperanza’s papa owns it until one day before her 13th birthday, Esperanza’s life is shattered when Alfonso and Miguel, servants of Papa, ride home in the wagon with Papa lying under a blanket in the back, dead

The most devastating part of this entire ordeal is that Papa died the night before little Esperanza’s birthday. Tio Louis and Tio Marco, Esperanza’s uncles, come to “grieve” for Papa. Tio Louis hints to Mama that Papa left the ranch to her , but it is not customary to leave a woman in charge of a household. He makes a proposal…of marriage! Mama is shocked and offended. She says no, of course! Tio Louis says that Mama will regret her decision. That night Esperanza is woken by Mama telling her the house on fire.

They finally agree to leave Mexico. It will be the best thing for them. It will be very tough on Esperanza who has never done an ounce of hard work in her life. They devise a plan to hoax Tio Louis. They follow the plan and leave for California. It is hotter, and the living conditions are worse. Esperanza goes through some more ups and downs in California just like her zig-zag blanket that her grandmother is teaching her how to make. At this point in the story, I had thought of the song, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. It shows that Esperanza needs hope. An interesting coincidence is that ‘Esperanza’ in Spanish means ‘hope’. The reason it reminded me of the song is Esperanza’s life is being torn apart. The line, “Hold on to that feeling,” reminded me that Esperanza needs to keep the feeling of love and the memory of Papa. But, by the end, unlike a backwards Cinderella, she feels rich at the end because she has her family, a roof over her head, and is surrounded by the people who love her.

At the end of the book, if the story were made into a movie, the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel should be played. At the beginning of the song, it describes the setting of the story: the Mexican Revolution. Then, as the song continues, more events happen just like Esperanza’s tragic life. But the biggest similarity between the two is the chorus. It says “We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning as the world’s been turning.” which relates that Tio Louis and Tio Marco set the fire in Esperanza’s house and through the rest of the story, there was always a fire burning in Esperanza’s heart where Papa used to be.

I would definitely rate this book a 10 out of 10 for its symbolism and its great literary quality. Esperanza Ortega was a real person, making this book based on an actual event. Esperanza was the author’s grandmother, and she told Pam a little bit of her life story. The rest Pam had to make up based on her grandmother’s personality. This book is also similar to Chinese Cinderella in the sense that they were both called Cinderellas by bullies.

Maya Salem, 6th grade

Book Review: Russian Roulette, by Anthony Horowitz

russian_roulette_coverFor the fans of the famous Alex Rider series, Anthony Horowitz has come out with a new thriller, Russian Roulette– which is perhaps even better.

For those who haven’t heard of the Alex Rider series, Alex is a teen spy who works for M-16, the British FBI. He is sent on numerous missions to help stop plots of Scorpia, a group of illegal weapons and drug dealers, as well as assassins. If one has read the Alex Rider series, they know of the infamous paid assassin working for Scorpia, Yassen Gregorvich, who has appeared in many of the Alex Rider books. Yassen is a very complex man, and acts in strange ways, such as saving Alex’s life when he is supposed to kill him.

Russian Roulette is about Yassen’s background, and how he comes to Scorpia. The book begins with Yassen as a young child, living in a small Russian village. One day, he is forced to escape alone after he learns that his parents made nuclear weapons, and that they are now being hunted down. Yassen has to go to Moscow, to find a “friend” of his parents’ who will look after him.

Unfortunately, Yassen discovers that nobody is really what they seem. After many twists and turns in the plot, Yassen escapes from Russia with members of Scorpia, and ends up in Italy. Yassen then learns not only how to shoot a gun, but about using polite manners, conversing in current events, and appreciating top brands, all in the interest of blending in to the crowd. In the final stages of the story, the plot twists once again.

For anyone who loves action novels, this is a must-read. Even though it is not a new Alex Rider book, it maintains Horowitz’s reputation as a top-notch author of thrillers. I would give Russian Roulette a 9.5 out of ten. Because of some minimal violence, I would recommend this book for ages 13 and up. Anthony Horowitz and his novels are never a disappointment.

-Will R., 9th grade

Books and Movies: Watch or Read First?

read_or_watchHave you ever wondered which is better: Read the book and then watch the movie, or watch the movie and then read the book? If you ask your friends, chances are everybody will have a different opinion… unless you have friends like my sister, who would rather just watch the movie and not read the book at all.

When comparing a movie to a book, you notice all of the differences. Considering most movies are about two hours in length, and it usually takes longer than two hours to read a book, I don’t think this is fair. Rather than trying to pick one over the other, I think it’s better to appreciate both of them for their differences. Watching the movie before reading the book that it was based on gives you the opportunity to get interested in reading the book.

Another benefit of watching the movie first is that you can be captivated by the movie without having anything spoiled for you. However, when you read the book first, you can imagine the characters and scenes in your head because you don’t have somebody else interrupting it for you.

An alternative is the movie-book sandwich. You watch the movie, read the book, and then watch the movie again. This works because you can still be captivated by the movie and captivated by the book (because the book usually has more detail and differences), and when you watch the movie again you notice more subtleties and feel more adept. I recently did this with Johnny Tremain.

johnny_tremainJohnny Tremain is a historical fiction novel written by Esther Forbes who was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1944. Ms. Forbes’ inspiration to write this novel was to help remind war-torn America during World War II about the principles of freedom that America was first founded on. Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. The fictional character of Johnny Tremain interacts with key people and events of the American Revolutionary War. Ms. Forbes’ message of “so every man can stand up,” is beautifully communicated in her novel.

I watched this movie, read the book, and watched it again. The first time I watched the movie adaption, I thought it was a pretty good movie. The second time I watched it, I noticed some differences. Lots of characters were not included, a song was added, there was a plot change (Johnny does fight with Rab in the movie but not in the book), and a horse (which was a sort of main character) looked very different than its description in the book…But the biggest difference I noticed between the book and the movie is that the movie seems to be the book sped up. You could tell very much so that this movie was based on this book. However, lots of characters and details were left out and/or changed, probably to make the movie adaption shorter.

Overall, the book was very good and educational while still being exciting and entertaining. The movie stuck pretty well to the book, with a bit of Disney added to it, of course. I recommend the book to ages 11 and up, whilst I recommend the movie to ages 8 and up. If you choose to read/watch Johnny Tremain, I hope you enjoy it! (And be sure not to miss the special features on the classic Disney DVD.) Learning can be so fun!

-Danielle L., 6th grade