Summer’s Over!

We can’t deny the fact any longer: school is fast approaching. Whether it’s elementary, middle, or high, it’s inevitably…SCHOOL. How these 6 letters can make our eyes widen in dismay or whoop in excitement (the latter not my case, but still), the answer to this can only mean one thing.

Summer…is over.

No longer can we awaken and look at the clock and tumble out of bed and yelp, “What? It’s 11:30? How can this be?” Or smirk when we see our backpacks not bulge with the weight of millions of textbooks and those mountains of homework that the teachers claim are, “Barely enough.”

It’s all gone the moment the 1st period bell rings. When your new teachers step into their classrooms, with the desks freshly scrubbed and gleaming under the fluorescent lights, the sound as every stands in unison to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in homeroom. It’s all so familiar to us, from the day when we first toddled to school on unstable legs and clutching onto Mom’s hand, to many years later, walking or biking to school with friends, laughing and chattering among ourselves. It’s all the same, in essence.

But for me, it’s a goodbye. A final farewell to the school that I have seen for the past 8 years. Graduating from the elementary school next door to emerging into the hectic, bustling life of middle school, I have loved it all the same. Now, as an 8th grader (I feel so old…), it’s my final year here. A year that I’m certain that will be filled with love for my teachers that have guided and supported me, brimming memories with friends, and jokes that I’ll be sure I never forget for the rest of my life.

I’ll miss my friends as we part ways, scattering with the winds to different high schools. Who knows, maybe we’ll still be the best of friends when we turn eighty-five, or maybe we’ll just never come back in contact again. Although it pains me to think about it, it’s the way life works. I bet high school will be an even more amazing and rewarding experience that middle school has been, no matter which one we attend. In the end, school isn’t something that I really groan over. I would be lying if I said I loved it with all my heart (just take a glance at my Geometry homework and you’ll understand), but I’d be lying also to say I’d never miss it at all.

Ah, school. Something that has followed us since years after we were born to this day. Every single moment in the classroom we have been endlessly learning, absorbing new knowledge, although it can be quite tedious (want to compare notes, anyone?). No matter what happens in the future, I wish to make a memorable last year here as an 8th grader, spending one final year surrounded by all those I love most.

Adios, summer!

-Katherine L.

Sword Art Online Progressive 001 by Reki Kawahara

Okay, confession time: I’m not really into Japanese anime and manga, or things like that. That is, until I read SAO, or Sword Art Online by Reki Kawahara.

To be clear, there are basically three adaptations of this book. One of them is a graphic novel, but this book, SAO Progressive 001, is a fictional chapter book that’s about 300 or so pages long.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if it hadn’t been for my friends, who are obsessed with Japanese manga and stories. The cover art is really cool, but personally, I just wasn’t that interested. One of my friends, who had read the book cover to cover about thousands of times, allowed me to borrow it. At first I was doubting it, but since the cover looked awesome (I know, don’t judge by a book by its cover! Sorry!), I decided to open it.

And then I pretty much didn’t put it down. The story is centered around the main character, a dark-haired swordsman named Kirito, shown on the cover. Next to him is a fencer, named Asuna. Sword Art Online is a a “virtual-reality” world game, where the player is transported into the gaming world, filled with monsters on each level of the hundred floors of a floating, chambered castle: Aincrad. However, there is no escape. Once you enter the game, there’s no way you can leave it. And the death toll begins to rise. 2,000 players are dead, killed by the monsters in the game.

As Asuna the fencer says, “There’s no way to beat this game. The only difference is when and where you die…”

Kirito meets Asuna in the beginning of the story, and over the events happening throughout the book, they form a sort of friendship. They’re not exactly a team, for they are both solo players, only working to strengthen themselves. But when fighting alone means certain death, will Kirito and Asuna overcome their differences and fight together to survive?

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for high-action, intense combat scenes against bosses, and a story that keeps you hooked in every page. Would you wish SAO was a real-life game that we could play? Anyways, I can’t wait to read Sword Art Online Progressive 002! I’m sure Reki Kawahara won’t let me down!

-Katharine L.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Mountaineer Jon Krakauer had a long-lasting dream, ever since he was a little boy: to climb the world-famous Mount Everest.

Into Thin Air is, as Krakauer puts it, not exactly an autobiography but merely his own account of what really happened on the peak of Everest in the terrible tragedy in 1996.

Many people died on the expedition to Everest, like renowned guides such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. It appalled me to see the harsh conditions in which the climbers labored through, the various health conditions they had to endure, and just how difficult the fact of breathing was at such a high altitude.

I really enjoyed reading this book; usually autobiographies are not my favorite genre, but this one blew me away. Krakauer is very meticulous in detail, and he describes everything that happened on that mountain very specifically. I really appreciated that; I felt like I was there on the mountain with him and the other climbers, and knew exactly what he was experiencing.

The way he also described the feeling of being stranded and blinded in the middle of the snow storm on top of the world was superb. I mean, I was grabbing the book and frantically flipping through the pages, wanting to see if everyone made it out okay. They didn’t, to my horror.

In fact, in this book, I learned quite a lot of things that I had never known about mountaineering before, like these spikes on a climber’s boots known as crampons to help grip the ice, or how the climbers had to do acclimatization exercises before actually attempting to ascend the mountain.

Throughout the book, many brave climbers prevailed, and the cost of sacrifice and loss was sorrowful. Even though I had not known these people previously, I felt bad for their untimely fate. But many were brave and loyal enough to go back and and try to save their fellow climbers, and many that are alive today from the incident of 1996 thank those courageous climbers.

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone; this is one of my favorite reads! From action-packed to intense scenes, horrifying terrors to unthinkable grief, and courage and loyalty of many climbers on Everest in 1996, this book is truly excellent.

-Katharine L.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Bar Mitzvah!

Recently, one of my friends, Zac, turned 13 and explained to me that he was holding something called a Bar Mitzvah. I wondered what that was, because I’d never attended one; I was expecting just a normal birthday party.

After doing some research, I realized that traditionally a Jewish child would participate in a coming-of-age ceremony at 13, called a Bar Mitzvah. I finally understood what the event was now.

My friends and I attended the Bar Mitzvah to celebrate with Zac, and it was such a great experience. There were two parts: The Torah, and then the reception later in the evening. The way the Bar Mitzvah is held is actually really similar to that of a wedding, with the long tables, DJ, dance floor, flower assortments, lights, etc.

I was very impressed in the dedication that Zac put forth in the ceremony. He memorized long Hebrew passages and sang songs to praise Jesus. The ceremony lasted about an hour, where he underwent many different spiritual rituals, like one particular flag-bearing. He did really well, especially while playing his guitar and reading his well-prepared speech. It was also very touching when his parents gave a speech and recognized him as a truly worthy son. Zac told us that he’d spent almost two years, and all that hard work and dedication really paid off!

Finally, the reception was very well put together. There was a lot of dancing (Zac got lifted and twirled up in the air on a chair), and it was all fun. There was ice cream, and three courses that were extremely tasty. The family put a lot of effort in the arrangements and the whole event turned out really well. I really enjoyed this event, and had the time of my life!

-Katherine L.

The Third Twin by C.J. Omololu

Ever done something wrong, but then just totally put the blame on your sibling, or maybe an imaginary one? Of COURSE not, right? Just put that one out of your mind…

But what if that imaginary sibling became real?

Answer: Some really, really bad stuff would happen.

In C.J. Omololu’s thriller and mystery combined in one, The Third Twin is sure to leave you flipping the pages like there’s no tomorrow. If you’ve ever read Pretty Little Liars, or maybe you’re a fan of the TV series, this book is pretty similar, but with more of a haunting twist. Even the cover looks cool!

But anyways, everything started out as a joke. The main characters, identical twins named Lexi (Alexa) and Ava (they’re seriously identical, because you really can’t tell the difference between them at all), make up a third twin, Alicia, just for fun. Who forgot to take out the trash? Who totally smashed that new iPhone? Alicia! Duh. Lexi and Ava decided that that was a total no-brainer.

As they grew up, they used Alicia as a cover-up for doing things that they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Nobody needed to know about this secret Alicia. She only existed when they wanted her too.

Until Alicia becomes real. Now Ava and Lexi are up to their necks in hot water, and it may not seem like they can get away without some pretty hard consequences. Because a boy is found murdered, and all traces point directly at Alicia.

The girl who never existed.

Either Lexi’s sister, Ava, is the one responsible for this tragic accident…

Or perhaps Alicia is real.

-Katharine L.

The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book vs Movie: A Christmas Carol

What better way to spend the holiday season than to sit down next to the fire with a cup of hot chocolate in hand, reading a holiday-spirited book? If that is the case, bear Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol in mind. If you’re more on the relaxing side, curl up on the couch and watch the movie. Both are great choices, but here’s some key differences between book vs movie.

Many Americans are familiar with the story of miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge, whose heart is cold and inhospitable. But after encountering three spirits of Christmas, Past, Present, and Future, Scrooge becomes a changed man, brimming with joy for Christmas season.

The movie, which was released in 2009, is more lighthearted than the actual book, as often happens. When Charles Dickens wrote the book there weren’t many jobs, and lots of people were homeless and dying of hunger. However, when the movie was made, the economy was much better and people were more joyous. Scrooge’s father is also considerably more generous in the movie, leaving Scrooge meager amounts of money, while in the book, the poor lad is sent straight to a new Master named Fezziwig. In the movie Scrooge seems much younger than he actually is; in the book, he is around 70, weaker and frail.

Each in turn, the three Spirits show Scrooge a memory or a future, and these images haunt Scrooge, who begins to feel guilty. He sees his nephew Fred making fun of him; he sees his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim, die, the family mourning; and in the end, he sees himself on a deathbed, while others cherish the fact that he is gone….

Of course, movies tend to dramatize these events, making them more exciting. The scene where Scrooge is going to fall into his grave is very intense, and so is the music. But when Scrooge wakes up, his reaction in the book and the movie are very similar; he is giddy to be alive, and honors Christmas with a joyful heart.

Either way, both are full of action, love, and are sure to warm you up for this holiday season!

-Katharine L.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and its film adaptations are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Kino, the novella’s protagonist, is a young Mexican-Indian pearl diver married to Juana; they have a baby named Coyotito. Their lives seem rather peaceful, but their tranquility is threatened when a scorpion bites Coyotito. Juana tells Kino to go to town and get the doctor, but Kino and their neighbors tell Juana that the doctor will never come to where they live, so Juana decides to take matters into her own hands and sets off with Coyotito to the doctor. Kino accompanies Juana, and many members of the village follow them to see what will happen. At the doctor’s house, the doctor’s servant tells Kino and Juana that the doctor is not at home — in truth, the doctor is home but will not help Coyotito because Kino cannot pay the doctor as much as the doctor wants, but also because the doctor is prejudiced against Kino’s race.

Kino goes to work diving in the Gulf for oysters from his canoe; Juana tends to Coyotito in the canoe by applying brown seaweed to his shoulder, which is swollen from the scorpion’s bite. As Kino is collecting oysters on the ocean bottom, he spots a larger-than-usual oyster, collects it, and returns to the canoe. Kino does not want to open the oyster immediately, but Juana prompts him to open the oyster; when he does, he finds a pearl the size of a sea gull’s egg. Juana gazes at the immense pearl; she then goes to check on Coyotito and discovers that Coyotito’s shoulder is no longer swollen. Kino is immensely happy about both the pearl and Coyotito, believing that this a type of heavenly good luck.

However, the pearl twists Kino’s mind. As a man tries to take Kino’s pearl one night, Kino fatally kills the man, resulting in him as a wanted man.

Juana, Kino, and the now healthy Coyotito, have to make a run for it. They take Kino’s canoe, cast it into the water, and quickly sail off. They arrive in a heavily wooded area, which provides shelters. But there are riders upon horses keeping a close eye on Kino and his family, trying to find him and execute him. Kino and his family find a water hole, where they stop to drink and rest.

Kino, Juana, and Coyotito then hide in the cave and wait for an opportunity to escape back down the mountain. The trackers are slow in their pursuit and finally arrive at the watering hole at dusk. They make camp nearby, and two of the trackers sleep while the third stands watch. Kino decides that he must attempt to attack them before the late moon rises. Just as Kino prepares to attack, Coyotito lets out a cry, waking the sleepers. When one of them fires his rifle in the direction of the cry, Kino makes his move, killing the trackers in a violent fury. In the aftermath, Kino slowly realizes that the rifle shot struck and killed his son in the cave.

The next day, Kino and Juana make their way back through town and the outlying brush houses. Juana carries her dead son slung over her shoulder. They walk all the way to the sea, as onlookers watch in silent fascination. At the shore, Kino pulls the pearl out of his clothing and takes one last, hard look at it. He remembers what this pearl has cost him, and the hard journey he has gone through because of it. Then, with all his might, under a setting sun, he flings the pearl back into the sea, watching it sink, sink, and sink deep below the surface, never to be seen again.

-Katherine L.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.