The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in all of it’s blue and gold shimmering splendor, is regarded as one of the greatest American novels of twentieth-century literature. Focusing on the story of Nick Carraway and his involvement with notoriously wealthy Jay Gatsby (followed by his legacy of the American dream and bitter love pursuit), The Great Gatsby dives into 1920’s American society in which the ideal life is painted as an extravagant party, born out of wealth and materialistic grandeur.

Hidden within the folds of Fitzgerald’s florid language — words of “yellow cocktail music,” a “universe of ineffable gaudiness,” “roaring noon” — the novel captivates the audience until it’s profound and raw close. The seamless flow of one thing to the next, the vivid images of a fast-paced and rich life, the timeless theory of long-lasting love and ambition: Fitzgerald renders a chaotic and recklessly beautiful portrait of the roaring 20’s Jazz Age and the world that buzzed within its history.

The incorporation of reoccurring symbols, such as the green light at the end of the dock or the constant juxtaposition of the colors yellow on blue, deepens the horizons to which The Great Gatsby stretches. Across the novel’s pages, Fitzgerald repetitively uses the colors yellow and blue to convey the ideas of truth versus wealth and false wealth in an abstract manner. Likewise, the green light brings the audience closer to Gatsby’s personal ambitions, his true substance over his outward actions.

Fitzgerald’s gradual characterization of each character increases the mysterious aura that revolves around Gatsby and those associated with him, wrapping the entire story into an enigmatic piece of literature rooted deeply in American history.

—Keira D.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Authors We Love: Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary is one of my favorite authors.  She has written many short fiction books, most of which are set in an American town during the middle of the twentieth century.  Her works include Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, and Otis Spofford.  Her books are among my favorites because they are easy to read and they contain many amusing stories.

I really enjoy reading Henry Huggins.  This book is about a boy named Henry who finds a dog on the street.  He names the dog Ribsy because it is skinny.  Henry tries to take Ribsy home on a bus with strict rules against dogs.  Henry does funny things to hide Ribsy on the bus.  I enjoy reading this book very much because of the way Henry becomes friends with Ribsy, even though the dog can be difficult to control.

Beezus and Ramona is another funny book.  Beezus (nickname for Beatrice) lives with her four-year-old little sister, Ramona.  Ramona gets into all kinds of mischief.  One time, she wrote her name all over a library book.  Another time, she put a doll in the oven.  Many other funny things happen in this book.  This may be my favorite book written by Beverly Cleary because of Ramona’s many misunderstandings and escapades.  Anyone with a mischievous little sibling can relate to this book.

I also find Otis Spofford to be very funny.  Otis gets into lots of trouble.  One time he dressed up as a bull and attacked a matador during a mock bullfight at school.  Some of his classmates were not amused by his behavior, but the situation is humorous.  I enjoy Otis’ lively personality.  He is always trying to stir up excitement.

Even though they are written for young readers, I still thoroughly enjoy Beverly Cleary’s books.  I have read some of her books several times.  I highly recommend them, not only for young readers, but also for anyone who feels like reading a short and charming book.

-Oliver H. 

The works of Beverly Cleary are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They are also available to download from Overdrive

Book Review Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men is about two ranch workers, during the Great Depression. Both of these men are the exact opposite of each other: Lennie is large, but he loves touching soft things and he is mentally paired, while George is small but intelligent. Together, they travel from ranch to ranch, with the dream of owning land.

At the beginning of the story, the two arrive at a new ranch, after being chased out of their old one, since Lennie had done a “bad thing.” On this ranch, the two meet Candy, an old, physically disabled ranch worker, who greatly cares for his old dog, a parallel to George and Lennie’s relationship. George and Lennie realize that with Candy’s help, their dream of owning land and rabbits is obtainable until all their plans are disrupted by a flirtatious woman, the wife of their boss’s son.

Steinbeck’s novella portrays the theme that the best plans often go amiss, and that immigrants often come to America because of their hopes and dreams. Despite George, Lennie, and Candy’s careful planning, their vision fails to materialize, showing that nothing in life goes perfectly. In addition, Steinbeck’s novella shows that people often come to America due to the opportunities and lack of a rigid class structure. People often come to America because like George and Lennie, they have dreams of moving upwards socially, economically, and politically that they cannot accomplish in their current country.

Overall, I would recommend Of Mice and Men to students seventh grade and above, due to the dialect of the characters, author’s writing style, and strong language. It is definitely a classic, with universal and significant themes relevant in society.

– Josh N.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

Old Rogaum and His Theresa by Theodore Dreiser

This is a short story written by Theodore Dreiser and I read it last week from an old book I found on the bookshelf. Though I wasn’t really expecting many surprises from this story, towards the end I was still surprised by its content.

The story starts off with old Rogaum who is a German butcher with his family living in New York. He calls his children one by one to bed every day at nine. His oldest daughter Theresa however, refuses to obey her father’s bed calls thinking that it is restricting her personal freedom. She is a girl in her puberty, therefore, wishing to show her charisma to boys. Almerting, the son of a stationer and also a member of a gang club, fell to Theresa’s interest. They were together for quite a long time before Almerting starts to complain about Theresa’s curfew. But since Theresa comes from a religious family, she refused to listen to Almerting’s wheedling. However one night, Rogaum decided to show his daughter some consequences of coming home late and locked her out.

Desperate to get in and later angry at her parents, Theresa wandered off by herself and met Almerting who coaxed her into coming with him to his club room. This leads to Rogaum looking for his daughter crazily when he saw a girl attempting to suicide laying half-dead at his feet. The girl galvanizes Rogaum to look even harder afraid that the same thing might happen to her daughter. Eventually, he was notified by the police that Almerting was with Theresa.

Overall, there weren’t a lot of surprises. But what I learned from this story is the love our parents give to us. They might be mad at us for not obeying them like Rogaum. But they do it for our sake. So as children, it is probably not a good choice to imitate Theresa and get ourselves hurt in the future.

-Coreen C. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This novel was one I was required to read for school, but despite my apprehension when I saw how big it was, it actually turned out to be a great story that was captivating and an incredibly interesting read. The novel follows two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, specifically Adam Trask throughout his life. It is set mostly in Salinas Valley, California, where the Hamiltons live.

Adam’s early life is told through a series of flashbacks, where we see the impact of his father’s military career and his half-brother Charles’ jealousy. Adam was always his father’s favorite, and Charles, wanting nothing more than their father’s love, abuses Adam. Adam spends his young adult years wandering after a short time in the military before coming home, and when he does come home, he finds that his father has died and left him and Charles a significant sum of money.

At the same time, a girl named Cathy Ames is introduced, and from the beginning, she seems morally corrupted at her core. She is able to manipulate her parents into what she wants, she manipulates her teachers, her peers, and somehow is able to heap blame for evil actions onto everyone but herself. As she ages, she only becomes more vicious, killing her parents in a fire and using people as stepping stones to get where she wants. This inevitably goes wrong; a man beats her almost to death when he realizes she’s using him, and she is left on Adam and Charles’ doorstep. Adam falls in love with her, blind to her faults, and they move to Salinas Valley, where they meet Samuel Hamilton, intertwining the two families. They have two children, and the rest of the novel follows the children’s lives. 

East of Eden is one of those novels that doesn’t really have a climactic point; it’s more of a biographical story, following the complex lives of a few select people. One thing that I learned when analyzing this book in school was that Steinbeck intended this to be his own version of the story of Cain and Abel, and each pair in the novel reflects this: Charles and Adam, Cathy and Adam, Adam’s children Cal and Aron. However, the age-old story evolves into something greater here. While Charles and Adam were an accurate reflection of the original story, Cal and Aron are able to change it; Cal is supposedly “destined” to be the evil brother, but he realizes his wrongdoings and fights hard to correct them and correct himself.

The novel is a story of self-improvement and the way that the characters evolved really struck me as I read. East of Eden isn’t just a story highlighting a snapshot of someone’s life; I was in awe of what a masterpiece it is, portraying the best and worst of human life, teaching valuable lessons while keeping the story engaging.

-Adelle W.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Book List: Books Worth Rereading

There are some books I enjoy reading just once, and there are others I could read over and over without getting tired … I seem to enjoy them more every time I read them. 

Whether you’re looking for an excellent book that (I would consider) is worth owning, or you’re looking for a relatable blog post about one of your favorite books/book series, I hope this post helps!

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall: I think I’ve mentioned this series in three other blog posts—when writing about my favorite fictional characters, locations, and about a recommended series. As you can probably tell, I love this series so much! Not only is the writing, setting, and characterization amazing, but this is a series I could read countless times. The perfect amount of humor is mixed with depth and sisterly love, and the dynamics of the Penderwick family are realistic yet captivating. I read the first few books when I was younger and enjoyed them, but I enjoyed and understood them on a different level when reading them once I was a little older. Like many of the books on this list (and with other books that I like rereading), I feel like so many age groups can get something out of this series. The Penderwicks is the ideal series for me when I’m looking for a book that is fun and not stressful but steeped in meaning and intrigue.   

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: The first chapter of this book can be disconcerting because the main character is addressing someone who readers don’t know about yet. By the time I had finished reading this book the first time, I had forgotten my confusion in the beginning. When I started to read it again, the beginning of the book was so much more understandable. I gained a new appreciation for the intricacy of the story, and I realized who the main character had been speaking to throughout the story. 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I just had to put this here. As I grow up and as I continue to read Harry Potter, the story does not grow old for me. With every reread I pick up a little more: a funny detail, another character, another layer of depth. Each character, even if only mentioned once or twice, seems to have his or her own background and fictional life. Reading Harry Potter is so comforting, and the draw of the series’ characters, humor, writing, and world continues and expands with each reread.  

The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan: Among other things, my favorite part of this series is the characters. I love the individual personalities of the seven demigods and their acquaintances (often enemies) and friends. Riordan’s humorous descriptions of the world of Greek Mythology and his knack for characterization make his books entertaining—even the second or third cycle through the books.

Being familiar with certain books results in a comforting reading experience. I already am accustomed to the settings and characters, and this allows me to take in other components of the story that I have not noticed before. I find there’s something almost magical about books that can be read more than once–not all books hold the detail and layers I find in these books. With each reread, the words you read are the same, but what you get out of it could be quite the opposite.

– Mia T.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, tells the story of a not-so-great Chosen One with a tendency to set things of fire – Simon Snow, and his vampire roommate/nemesis – Baz Pitch. As secrets from the past are brought to light once again, Simon and Baz are forced to work together to defeat the evil Humdrum that has been plaguing the magical society in England. Filled with monsters, magic, and romance, Carry On is a thrilling adventure with twists and turns and a fast-paced plot that leaves readers hungry for more.

This book, in a nutshell, is Harry Potter crossed with Twilight, with Star Wars references. And not in a subtle way. Despite it being remarkably similar to these three franchises, Carry On, in my opinion, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s fast-paced plot caused me to speed through the book in only a few hours. As soon as I finished it, I immediately opened it back to the first page and started all over again.

Carry On contains many well written and lovable characters. While they bear many similarities to characters from Harry Potter (Simon to Harry, Penny to Hermione, Mage to Dumbledore, and Baz to Draco), they are each distinct and unique characters, with fun and likable personalities that set them apart from the characters they are based on.

Another thing that makes this book so great is the LGBT+ representation. Both of the main characters are part of the LGBT+ community as well as some of the side characters, something that is not seen often in this genre.

There were some swear words, just a warning, but I felt that they helped make the dialogue feel more real and authentic. I cannot recommend this book enough. If you love fantasy, if you love romance, if you love YA, then pick up this book immediately – you won’t regret it!

-Lauren R.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This heartwarming story is not an ordinary book. It is told through the eyes of a dog, Enzo! The book actually begins at the end of the book, or more specifically: the end of Enzo’s life (cue the tears). Enzo knows his time is up, but his owner Denny does not.

Then, the book goes back to the beginning, when Denny first adopts Enzo from a farm. Denny at that point is a bachelor, a professional race car driver. Enzo during his first year with Denny learns a lot about cars and car racing. About a year or two later, Enzo becomes a big brother and protector to Zoë, Denny and Eve’s daughter. Everything seems to be going well until it doesn’t.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead

Enzo silently watches as Eve suffers from constant headaches making her unpleasant to be around. He can sense the illness inside Eve but cannot say anything to warn the family. Eve fights a tough battle, but unfortunately, it is not a fight that she wins.

Denny, fresh-faced with his wife’s passing, is now faced with a custody battle with Eve’s parents who deems Denny as unsuitable for Denny to raise Zoë. He ends up selling his house and giving up racing temporarily in order to do anything they can to take back custody of his daughter.

The rest of the book consists of arduous trials consisting of an accused assault (that was not true), difficulty in getting back Zoë; things just are not going well for Denny. Luckily there is a turn around for Denny at the end; he gets back custody of his daughter, the assault charges are dropped, and gets an amazing offer of a new job as a car test and track instructor in Italy. Eventually, Enzo’s race is reaching an end, and Denny realizes this so he lets Enzo run to a field, where Enzo can run faster and never stop.

I definitely recommend this book but it is a tear-jerker (fair warning)

-Phoebe L.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What if your family had no choice but to pack up all your belongings into a small car and travel a thousand miles on the road? And the destination is no place like home? What would you do?

Set in the “Dirty Thirties” during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, the Grapes of Wrath highlights the Joad family as they plan their new future in California, where workers are needed. In their eyes, California is their dream land and the rumored “Promised Land.” The family of thirteen people pack their necessities and are determined to take on the rigorous road to California.

Tom Joad, one of the main characters, leads his family through the obstacles on the road that include starvation and extreme heat. Each family member looks onto the road while facing internal and external challenges. The novel essentially teaches the importance of holding onto dignity and hope during hardships. The Joad family not only maintain hope for a better future, but they also unite together as a family.

Steinbeck additionally embraces the ideal American dream that, in reality, starts within the individuals with hope and determination. His use of symbols and literary devices portray the motif of endurance.

Overall, Steinbeck’s novel makes the reader go on his or her own journey while reading about the up’s and down’s of the Joads. At the end of the long path, the reader realizes that the obstacles they had to face teach them more about their ultimate destination.

-Zohal N. 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Authors We Love: S.E. Hinton

S.E. Hinton is an American author we are often introduced to in school. Her classic novel The Outsiders remains one of the most popular books in youth literature to this day. The Outsiders tells the stories of the lower class (Greasers) and the upper class (Socs) from the perspective of narrator Ponyboy Curtis. The novel explores hostile interaction between social classes and is often seen as Hinton’s greatest work due to its stark realism and relatability. 

Rumble Fish is another one of Hinton’s greatest works. Rumble Fish follows the life of teenager Rusty James who struggles to live a life in his brother’s shadow. His brother, the Motorcycle Boy, had taken a trip to California and left behind a notorious, criminal reputation that Rusty James tries his best to embody. Unbeknownst to Rusty James, Motorcycle Boy never truly made it to California and was battling his own mental strife. In the end, Motorcycle Boy’s life is ended by his final, fatal encounter with the police as he tries to steal “rumble fish” from a local pet store. Possessed by grief, Rusty James decides to make his own trip to California and reaches the ocean in honor of his lost brother. Through this intense story, Rumble Fish teaches readers that the world becomes less dark if we know where to find the light. 

One of Hinton’s lesser known works is That Was Then, This is Now. That Was Then, This is Now contains many of the same elements as The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, but takes place a few years later. Now, social classes are less defined, and violence between Greasers and Socs is less frequent. The current omnipotent issue is no longer gang fights; it’s drug abuse. Main characters Mark and Bryon are close friends, and consider themselves brothers. When Bryon’s mother is hospitalized and needs surgery, the two scramble to find sources of necessary income. Bryon finds a job at a supermarket, while Mark supplies money without an obvious source. During this time of financial stress, their friend M&M goes missing until Bryon finds him under the influence of narcotics. M&M is hospitalized, and Bryon finds out that Mark has been selling drugs in order to help pay for his mother’s surgery. Bryon must choose justice for M&M or Mark’s life. In the end, their brotherly bond is severed when Bryon reports Mark and Mark is sent to prison. This story shows readers that the world is not divided into black and white, or good and evil. The most difficult decisions are often made in the area of divergence between the two extremes.

S.E. Hinton’s is one of the greatest authors of the 1900’s, and her books have remained popular, years after publication. Her didactic novels continue to teach modern youth crucial life lessons that will never die with age.

-Katie A. 

The works of S. E. Hinton are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.