Book Review: Dragon of Silk by Laurence Yep

dragon_silk“Silk is in our blood” – An excerpt from Dragon of Silk by Laurence Yep

Four Chinese girls from different generations each given the name Swallow. Each living in a different era with different difficulties. The one thing tying them together is their heritage and bond with silk. This book spans over seventy-five years, from 1835-2011, in both China and America. Each girl shows the strength and courage of a dragon through the the thick and thin. They fight and sacrifices to keep the family together and pursue her passion.

Dragon of Silk was published in 2011 and is the 10th book in the Golden Mountain Chronicles. This book can be considered a stand-alone book.

Dragon of the Silk is a story of courage and strength but at the same time it brings the theme of the importance of family and how one person can have a huge affect on another. There is also the theme of giving up something to help someone else. Due to the setting of the story, it allows the reader an insight on how Chinese people and immigrants lived during those times. There are also many mentions of the Chinese legend of the Weaving Maid, as well as some of the many festivals celebrated in the Chinese Culture. The characters are well written and have a quality that makes them more real to the reader.

This is a perfect read for anyone. This doesn’t have hardcore action and adventure but it has a wonderful tale for those willing to take the time and read it. This is certainly one of the tops in my book lists.

-Sarah J., 9th grade

Book Review: Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor_parkWhile browsing Sparknotes one night for help with homework, I was lured into the “fun section.” You know, the section where you can find information about celebrities, current events, and popular books. Well, I’m very glad I did, because there was an article on great books to read during the summer. Eleanor & Park was near the top of the list. The comments on the book were mostly positive, so I decided to give it a try.

Guys, this book is really, really good. It’s funny, exciting, and relatable on so many levels. Eleanor & Park follows the lives of two teenagers in high school as they go through all of the awkward stages of love.

It’s not a typical, boring, lovey-dovey type of love story, but rather it is raw and honest. Both Eleanor and Park struggle to find their respective places in the world, and both have issues with their parents (problems I think most teenagers can easily relate to).

The story is told in a dual-narrative style, with both Eleanor and Park sharing their opinions on the events taking place.  I usually don’t like this type of narration because it can easily become repetitive and boring.  However, Rowell manages to keep it fresh, without rehashing scenes that the reader already knows about. Overall, the book was very enjoyable to read, and I definitely recommend it!

-Amanda D., 12th grade



AP Lang Bible Assignment

bookstack2I decided to write a blog on this topic because I found it surprising and interesting that I would be required to read the Bible for AP summer work. I grew up listening to stories from the Bible and have grown accustomed to hearing my pastor speak about random passages, but I never knew how the dialect of the Bible and the famous stories have translated themselves in many ways into works of literature.

As a pre-AP Lang student, I am responsible for reading the entire chapter of Genesis from the Bible and creating an alphabetized dictionary full of important people, events, and places. I must also read the entire gospel of Luke and retell fifteen of the most significant parables stating their significance. A parable is a short story that has a purpose and moral/lesson.

I’m sure many of you incoming AP Lang students have this odd homework assignment along with me. At first, I was surprised that a public high school would incorporate religion into the Common Core assignments, but my previous English teacher explained to us that we must familiarize ourselves with the biblical stories in order to better understand the allusions referencing subjects such as the Garden of Eden or the historic “Christ” character in many novels. Regardless of the assignment, I’m fascinated by the different approach I have to the Bible now. No longer am I just a Christian reading the Bible, but now I am a “college” student analyzing the stories and parables.

If you too find this AP Lang assignment interesting, feel free to leave a comment expressing your opinion on the work, not the religion 🙂

-Kelsey H., 11th grade

Book Review: The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

joy_luck_clubInsightful, heart-warming, and beautifully crafted, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club portrays mother-daughter relationships that must endure both generation and culture gaps. Each of the four Chinese-immigrant mothers narrates their past of growing up in China and immigrating to America. They also describe their struggles to raise daughters who won’t forget their Chinese heritage and values, as well as the legend of their mothers. On the other hand, the four American-born daughters strive to separate themselves from their mothers and find their own identities in America.

While reading, you will learn to be open-minded, as this will allow you to enjoy and understand the intended overall meaning of The Joy Luck Club. The novel teaches many important lessons that include being accepting toward different cultures, never judging someone from just their appearance, appreciating your parents, and being grateful for all of the opportunities we have in America. Many countries’ cultures are very different than the American culture, so we must always respect their customs. In addition, each daughter views their mother as weak and embarrassing to be around in the beginning. Once they begin to listen and see their mothers in an entirely different light, they discover that their mothers have experienced and sacrificed a lot for them to grow up and have a better life. This also leads them to be thankful for all the opportunities they are able to have, unlike their mothers, who grew up in China. All in all, both mother and daughters learn to discover the true meaning of love and come to accept each other for who they truly are.

I would definitely recommend this touching novel to anyone over the age of fourteen, since some mature topics are discussed. I especially recommend The Joy Luck Club to mothers and daughters because it will remind you of the significance of the unbreakable relationship and how important family is. Amy Tan is a remarkable author, and through her writing, she is able to weave a series of short stories into one complete, fulfilling novel.

-Kaylie W., 9th grade

Book Review: Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick

never_fall_downHave you ever heard of the Khmer Rouge?  Or the infamous Killing Fields?

During the mid ’70s in Cambodia the communist group, Khmer Rouge, were the force behind a terrifying genocide.  Patricia McCormick tells the true story of a young boy’s horrifying experience during this time.

Never Fall Down is a true story that takes you on the shocking and terrible life experience of one boy who lived in Cambodia at this time.  The boy’s name is Arn and he was taken first from his home, then from his family by the Khmer Rouge. Arn was taken to a camp based on his gender and age.  At the camp Arn was forced to work on the rice fields. The lifestyle was very tough. One day, the Khmer Rouge soldiers asked if any of the boys could play an instrument.  Even though Arn has never played anything in his life he volunteers because he knows this will save his life. Later, Arn somehow find himself in the middle of the place we know today as the Killing Fields.  Then Arn is handed a gun and is sent to battle with the other boys still alive. “He lives by the simple credo: ‘Over and over I tell myself one thing: Never fall down.”‘

This story exposed me to a huge event in history that I never knew happened.  I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge or the Killing Fields.  Never Fall Down made me come close to tears. Arn’s struggles are so traumatizing.  It made me wonder what I would do in a situation like his.  It is a very touching story.  This story showed me how scary it is to be a child in the middle of a war.   At times while reading this book I forgot I was reading about history.  Instead I thought I was reading a survival novel.

I personally don’t like to read books on history or war but Never Fall Down is one of my few exceptions.  It takes you on a boy’s journey that starts in a happy home and ends with his search for freedom.  I recommend this to every teen.  It helped me understand the life struggles of the many immigrants that came to America during the ’60s and ’70s.  I advise that you be prepared for many deaths and heartbreaking moments.  I love this book so please go check it out.

-Erika T., 8th grade

Booke Review: And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

mountains_echoedBeing an avid reader of Khaled Hosseini, with A Thousand Splendid Suns ranking as one of my all time favorite books (reviewed here), I eagerly looked forward to reading his newest novel, And the Mountains Echoed.

The premise of it seemed interesting enough, it was said to be an intricate story of multiple tales woven together, all connected in one way or another. Like his two other novels, it is set in Afghanistan from the 1950s to the early 2000s.

It follows the love and power of siblings and family, focused mainly on the brother and sister of a poor family. The father of this family has to sell his little daughter to a wealthy childless family for much-needed money, although it breaks his heart to do so. The bond between the brother and sister, named Abdullah and Pari, is strong and unbreakable, even when they are separated. The book (somewhat) follows their lives, as well as the tales of others who supposedly bear some connection to them and the plot.

The rest of the novel is divided into the point of views of a few other people – the children’s stepmother, Parwana; her brother Nabi; his neighbors Idris and Timur; Pari herself; a boy named Adel; and finally Abdullah’s daughter.

The beginning of the story, with Abdullah and Pari was what I liked best. It was undoubtedly the most interesting and complex – it was written exceptionally well, from the fable their father told them, to their separation. The siblings’ relationship was one of my favorite elements of the novel. Ten year old Abdullah was practically like a father to  wide-eyed three year old Pari who clung to and admired her older brother. He was the epitome of the perfect brother. When they got separated, you could feel the devastating loss through Hosseini’s skilled writing abilities. The first few chapters kept me wanting to read more, compelled to know what happened next, and experiencing a special connection with the characters.

Unfortunately however, the extent of that only lasted until then. After the first few chapters, I was left sorely disappointed. The stories of Parwana and Pari were interesting enough, but the others were far from it. I was left rather bored and uncaring of Idris and Timur (they seemed to have no real connection or relevance to the story) and of Adel. In my opinion, the novel would have been far better if it had omitted the confusing switching point of views, which was often irrelevant, and simply stuck to Abdullah and Pari and their lives.

This book had so much potential and could have been another of my favorites from Hosseini but the odd dynamic of unrelated characters combined with minimal focus on the siblings made it an unfortunate disappointment.

However, if you find the plot intriguing and would like to give it a try, by all means go for it! I may not have thoroughly enjoyed it, but my taste differs from others, and you might find yourself liking it!

-Rachel L., 10th grade

Book Review: Eyes of the Emperor

eyes_emperorRunning for his life and scrambling for shelter, Eddy Okubo tries to avoid the Japanese bombs raining down on Pearl Harbor. This is how he chooses to live his teenage life, being a U.S. army soldier in World War II.

Eyes of the Emperor, written by Graham Salisbury, is about a sixteen year old boy who signs up to serve in the U.S. army to fight for his country. But, in doing so, Eddy has to survive harsh conditions and will his physical and mental ability be enough to impress his training superiors?

Eddy Okubo wants to prove to his father that his loyalty lies with his homeland, America, by enrolling to be an American soldier, even though his heritage is Japanese. After the Pearl Harbor bombing, Eddy and his comrades are sent to Cat Island, where they are supposed to test a secret project assigned by President Roosevelt, to defeat the Japanese and win the war. Even after grueling hard work and dangerous obstacles to face, Eddy still wants to become a U.S. soldier, who must survive the task in the dense jungle on Cat Island. Eddy needs to prove himself through these challenges until the army accepts his loyalty. Will he prevail and will his talent be recognized by the country that he believes in, or will he have to go back to his family without honor and dignity?

Graham Salisbury is an American author born during the time of World War II. He wrote many great books such as Under the Blood Red Sun and The Millennium. In my opinion, I would rate this book an eight out of ten and would encourage young adults to read this great story of historical fiction. It provides a lot of information about World War II, involving Japan and America. The way Graham Salisbury describes the characters and setting is also very deep and gives you a vivid image of the whole story, as if you were the main character himself. In addition, he uses a lot of personification and metaphors to describe major events. This is a great novel of a boy who follows his beliefs and carries them out persistently to achieve his goals.

-Riley W., 6th grade

Book Review: Made For You, by Melissa Marr

made_for_youWhen Eva Tilling wakes up in the hospital, she has no idea how she got there. She remembers everything that happened right before the accident but can’t put the pieces together, until her best friend, Grace, tells her that she was hit by a car. They soon figure out that it wasn’t just an accident.

Faced with the mystery of finding out who did it, Eva discovers a creepy new ability: she can see a person’s death when they touch her. She doesn’t know how or why she can do this, but she is determined to use it as a tool to find who the murderer is.

Meanwhile, her old friend, Nate, comes in and helps her and Grace. Nate hasn’t talked to Eva in years and is surprised when he suddenly shows an interest in her. However, she must put aside their troubled past in order for them to work together to find the maniac who tried to kill her.

Made For You was very interesting. I couldn’t put it down and ended up finishing it sooner than I thought. There are many surprises throughout the book, but the biggest surprise is definitely who the killer turns out to be! This book is meant for teens ages 13 and up. I would really stick to that suggestion, given the mature content in the book. This review is based on an advance reader copy– the book comes out next month. If you love suspense and mystery, I recommended you look for it.

-Sabrina C., 9th Grade

Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

giver_coverAuthor Lois Lowry does an amazing job in the unique, science-fiction novel The Giver. The highly-anticipated movie adaptation just released on August 15. Have you seen it?

In the novel, we are introduced to a boy named Jonas, who lives in a utopian society that has eradicated conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice, and inequality. In the annual Ceremony, where every twelve-year-old gets a life assignment prearranged by the Elders, Jonas is selected to inherit the position of “Receiver of Memory.”

When Jonas spends more & more time with the Giver, he learns the power of wisdom. Even though the people in his community have been shielded from life’s many problems, Jonas realizes that they do not know about the things that give life meaning such as sunshine, color, music, and love.

Becoming wiser everyday, Jonas doesn’t want to bear all the memories, both joyful and painful, by himself. He wants to share the many freedoms with his community, even if it means disrupting the safe, current life of innocence and order. Together the Giver and Jonas formulate a plan that will have instant, severe outcome on the entire community, especially on Jonas himself.

Jonas, portrayed by Brenton Thwaites in the movie, is naïve in the story and I like how he matures during the course of the story. One main reason I liked this book is that it is unlike other dystopian novels I have read. The Giver is one of the books that I have read over and over again because it is so well written. This is truly Lois Lowry’s masterpiece and in my opinion she totally deserves the John Newbery Award for it. The ending of The Giver was not the best, but I have not read all the books in the Giver Quartet. It might make more sense in the latter books. I am especially excited to see the movie because I loved the book. It’s been hard waiting for the movie to be released, but I am going to see it for sure.

-Anmol K., 7th grade

Summer Vacation Reading

photo by flickr user fred vargas

photo by flickr user fred vargas

As soon as school ends and summer vacation starts I find that I have a lot more free time. During the school year, it is difficult for me to find the time to read the books that I want to read. Most of the time homework, sports, and other after school activities require my full and undivided attention. Unfortunately, this means that my favorite books are usually put on hold until I can find the time.

However, once summer rolls around I can at last read a book that I enjoy. Summer vacation gives me the opportunity to catch up on the books that I had put aside during the school year. I am able to lay out by the pool with an easy read or even sit bundled up on the couch with a thriller. Even while traveling during the summer, I find books to be a great way to pass time on the plane.

I have noticed though that the genre of books I like to read does change during the summer. I tend to gravitate towards an easier read rather than a dark and depressing book.

Summer time is a time of relaxation, and the best way to relax is with a great book.

-Olivia S.