The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath revolves around the story of Esther Greenwood, a young college student who dreams of a bright future as a poet. During a summer internship in New York, Esther is held back in pursuing her dreams as she struggles with identity and societal expectations. The reader is give a deep look at her mental processes as she slowly falls into a suicidal state. In other words, Esther is stuck in a “bell jar” of her own thoughts, where she feels as if she is unable to connect with the world around her.

The most impactful aspect of this novel would be the overall message it shares to its audience on the struggles faced by those with clinical depression. Esther’s narration is given through elaborate imagery and effective analogies, causing the audience to both pity and understand the situation she is going through to a much greater extent. Additionally, Plath’s subtle comments on the societal pressure put on women in the 60s further adds to the complexity of the novel.

Overall, I would recommend this book to most people as it is both beautifully written and very eye-opening. However, I would remain cautious of some potentially triggering material such as mentions of suicide.

-Aysha H.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen follows the story of the Bennett sisters, whose mother desires nothing but to get them all married. Early on in the book, the family is introduced to a neighbor’s friend- a wealthy man named Mr. Darcy. The author beautifully develops the relationship between him and one of the oldest Bennett sisters, Elizabeth.

Jane Austen’s ability to realistically capture the struggles in a relationship is the quality I admired the most while reading this book. The author is able to eloquently show the obstacles one must overcome in order to find true love, such as pride, arrogance, and social class. While reading, I found myself at the edge of my seat, wondering what the outcome would be of the protagonists’ turbulent relationship. I also enjoyed how the novel shared the struggles of other family members as well, while still keeping the main focus on Darcy and Elizabeth.

I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in classics, or the romance genre in general, as this is truly one of the most iconic love stories of all time. Although it is difficult to adjust to at first, Jane Austen has an iconic writing style that demonstrates her creativity and elegance, giving her stories a tone that fully immerses readers into the same time period as their favorite characters.

-Aysha H.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a nonfiction novel that takes readers through the author’s journey of creating his own law firm and and defending his clients. Stevenson works with racial minorities, disabled people, women, and children who have been wrongfully convicted or treated cruelly in prisons. The novel mainly revolves around the case of Walter McMillian- an innocent black man who was blamed for the murder of a teenage girl named Ronda Morrison. However, the author still shares dozens of other cases that involve different groups of people.

Personally, I found this novel very eye-opening, as it informed me of the situations involving our country’s justice system and current prison conditions. It caused me to rethink the conditions in which someone should receive a capital punishment, as well as whether or not the death penalty is considered inhumane. I was also impressed by the several themes in the novel that could be applied to not only my own life, but society as a whole. For example: It shouldn’t be okay to judge someone without considering the situation they are currently in, or what they have been through in the past.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about criminal justice and law. Although there are some legal terms that require extra research to understand the meaning of, the overall plot is very easy to comprehend, especially with the clear, detailed descriptions of each case.

-Aysha H.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is an exhilarating mystery novel revolving around the story of ten strangers, each invited to an island by a mysterious host. Their arrival was followed by a series of inexplicable murders, causing the guests to work together to catch the unknown culprit. The novel is based off a famous poem by Frank Green titled “Ten Little Indian Boys.”

Overall, I find this book to be a fairly quick read that keeps the audience engaged from beginning to end. The setting, as well as Christie’s fast-paced storytelling and mysterious tone adds an air of suspense that leaves readers feeling anxious, yet eager to find out who the murderer really is. Furthermore, the way the author flawlessly transitions between different perspectives and gives detailed descriptions of each character’s inner thoughts leaves readers relating to, and understanding the guests at a higher level. All this combines for a fully immersive experience into the world of mystery.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good mystery read. Agatha Christie is considered one of the best selling authors of all time, and I believe everyone should encounter her phenomenal writing at least once. However, I would be aware of the violence and overall gory imagery used, which many readers could be sensitive to.

-Aysha H.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde revolves around the life of a wealthy, handsome man who desires nothing but to retain his youthful appearance. When posing for a portrait painted by the artist Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray meets Lord Henry Wotton, one of Basil’s closest friends. Lord Henry is a highly philosophical man who shares several theories with Dorian and ultimately causes a permanent change in his character. His idea that art and beauty have a greater importance than one’s struggles causes Dorian to wish that he remain young forever, and that his portrait ages instead. His wish eventually comes true.

One aspect of this novel I enjoy is the author’s use of imagery. Wilde is able to write descriptive, yet easily comprehensible passages that help the reader picture a scene almost perfectly. For example:

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink flowering thorn.”

I also greatly enjoyed the main theme of the novel and the author’s take on the relationship between beauty and morality. The way the portrait vilely altered throughout the course of the novel shows the state of Dorian’s inner conscience, despite his outward beauty. Contradicting one of the most popular Renaissance ideas, the author was able to prove to the audience that beauty and righteousness don’t always go hand in hand.

Although I found this story extremely engaging and well-written, I believe it won’t appeal to everyone, as it has a very gothic tone that doesn’t suit many readers. However, when taking in the many themes shared by the author, one can learn to greatly appreciate the story, despite disliking the gloomy mood.

-Aysha H.

The Picture of Doran Gray by Oscar Wilde is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Set in the 1860s during the second half of the Civil War, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women follows the lives of the four March sisters- Meg, Amy, Beth, and Jo. Throughout the story, the sisters are faced with several struggles that accompany the process of growing up and finding one’s place in society, especially in a state of poverty. When considering historical context, the novel provides a realistic perspective on battles of loss fought by several American families as their husbands and fathers were sent to fight in the war, as well as issues of independence and identity faced by many women in the 1800s. Another prominent character in the novel is the March family’s closest neighbor: Theodore Laurence, or Laurie, who is heavily involved with the March sisters from a young age and becomes a prominent figure in their lives.

While reading this novel, I found that the first half had a rather slow pace, making it hard to maintain interest for a long period of time, as many chapters seemed rather useless in developing the story line. However, having read the book in its entirety, looking back, I realized that as insignificant as some moments may seem, they were crucial in terms of character development, as these events have helped shape who the March sisters grew up to be in the end. Therefore, looking at the novel in this new light, I find that it has accomplished exactly what it intended to be: a story that shares not just one, but several small and personal, yet realistic struggles of a family living in uncertain times.

Out of all traits in this book, I find that the several themes of self-improvement, morality, and more would have the greatest impact on the reader. Many people may be able to connect, or relate to the lessons taught to the March sisters, and many others may be inspired by the messages shared regarding self-sacrifice and compassion for one’s family. I was also greatly pleased by the varying personalities of the four sisters, as they would all seem to approach the same situation in different ways. This shows the great impact the novel could have on several young girls, as it shows that there are multiple ways a woman may choose to approach her life, and none of the paths taken are inherently wrong.

Overall, Alcott’s original novel is a beautifully written, thought-provoking story that has had an immense impact on American literature through its vivid imagery, inspiring characters, and meaningful themes. I would recommend this classic to most people, especially if they are interested in American historical fiction.

– Aysha H.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.