The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

At the suggestion from a comment on this blog, I decided to read The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I had high expectations for the novel, as I read and thoroughly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper. The novel did not disappoint.

The story follows Sage Singer, a baker who has shut herself away from the rest of the world. She goes to a grief group, but outside of that, she hides her face from the rest of the world. Even Adam, with whom she has a complicated relationship, may just be pitying her. And then she meets Josef Weber, a nonagenarian with a lingering German accent who has a mysterious request: For Sage to help Josef kill himself.

Why her? you may ask. They just met… Well, Sage’s family, except for Sage herself, is Jewish. And Josef… he swears he was an SS Officer.

What makes this novel touching is how the characters relate to one another. They each deal with their own internal struggle and it is incredible to watch them grow to trust one another, or to betray the other. I loved that the story was interrupted by an extensive account of a young girl’s experience in concentration camps, because it made the novel feel not only like a moral decision in the present day but relevant to how history proves to repeat itself.

This was one of the greatest stories I have read in a while. I strongly recommend this novel. It deserves a 10 out of 10.

– Leila S., 11th grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Craig is depressed. What could be funny about that? He cannot handle his work at Executive Pre-Professional High School. He throws up when he tries to eat, because, as he says, there is a little man pulling a rope that makes him regurgitate his food. He smokes pot with his best friend and has a huge case of jealousy over his best friend’s girlfriend. He meets regularly with two psychologists, or shrinks.

He knows basically all there is to know about his depression. He knows when the Cycling is starting up, how he hopes the Shift will come, but sometimes he experiences a Fake Shift. He just doesn’t know when the real Shift will come.

And then he experiences the lowest of lows and admits himself into the hospital.

Vizzini, having suffered from depression himself, presents depression in a way that is understandable to the lay person, and in a sense, relatable to teens who have the same issue as Craig: being over stressed and over worked at school. I enjoyed the simple way in which Craig looked at the world, but it was tough to read about the people he met in 6 North.

This novel is appropriate for most teens. It has been made into a movie, which may be interesting to watch, but I would definitely recommend reading it first.

– Leila S., 11th grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive and Hoopla

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

wearetheants_shaundavidhutchinsonIf you knew the world was going to end, but you had the power to stop it, would you?

For Henry Denton, this is not such an easy question. The aliens who regularly abduct Henry, referred to as sluggers, gave him this choice. Henry does not think living is worth it: his father left when he was young, his mother lives a terrible life, his grandmother has Alzheimer’s, his older brother quit school, his best friend committed suicide, he has a secret but abusive relationship, and he is regularly mocked for being “Space Boy.” There seems to be no end to his troubles. Wouldn’t everyone just be better off if they were all wiped off the face of the earth? No one would have to suffer, his grandmother’s life would not have to fall apart before her eyes, his soon-to-be niece would not have to grow up in such a terrible world.

We Are the Ants follows Henry as he discovers how to live in this world, which turns out not to be as bad as he thought. People surprise Henry. People encourage him. People help him find closure. They help Henry decide whether or not to push the button to save the world.

What I thought would be a science fiction book about a boy abducted by aliens was definitely not what I ended up reading. This book comments on how terrible life can get but how perfect the little things can seem. My favorite part was the relationship between Henry and his grandmother, who frequently forgets Henry’s name. I loved seeing how Henry transformed throughout the novel to the point that he gave the perfect gift of memory to his grandmother. This novel is a bit strong for younger teens, but reading it certainly alters one’s perspective on life, so I would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S.

We Are The Ants is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

allthelightwecannotsee_anthonydoerrNormally, books about World War II are excruciatingly sad, desperate, and hopeless. Yet All the Light We Cannot See comes a hopeful theme and relief from the classic WWII historical fiction novel. Told in a series of sections from different parts of the war, switching between the past and the present, this novel tells the story of Marie-Laure and Werner and the people they encounter throughout the years.

Marie-Laure, a young French girl, lived with her father, the locksmith of the Natural History Museum in Paris. At a young age, she lost her vision, so her life was completely dependent upon her father. Her father took this to heart, building a mini scale model of their city for Marie-Laure to memorize, to the point that she could get around the city unaided.  She even counted storm drains as she walked the museum every day. When the war started, Marie-Laure and her father evacuated, bringing them closer to the action of the novel.

Werner, on the other hand, grew up an orphan in the Zollverein, having the whole responsibility for his younger sister. In order to prevent his future being consumed by working in the coal mine, he applied and received acceptance into one of the government’s schools on account of his extraordinary talent for working with radios. The novel tracks how Werner felt and reacted to what the Nazi party committed during the war, providing a unique perspective on Nazi life.

The novel’s plot is thick with questions, as the novel follows many characters other than Marie-Laure and Werner. With stories about Marie-Laure’s father, a German Sergeant, Werner’s friend from school, and the infamous Sea of Flames diamond, the novel is crafted in an original way that carries the story forward but provides enough details to immerse the reader into the action.

This is certainly a book that is difficult to put down. With so much going on, it was hard to leave one character’s story for a chapter to catch up with the other characters. I would definitely recommend this novel though there are some parts that are sentimental.

– Leila S., 11th grade

All The Light We Cannot See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

janeeyre_charlottebronteAs it seemed to Jane Eyre, she would never be equal to her cousins, neither in status nor in physical appearance. From all angles, she was just a plain orphan, whom Mrs. Reed kept under her care only at the request of her late husband, Jane’s uncle. Constantly chided, blamed for things outside of her control, or treated like a pest, Jane’s early life was not easy.

Before long, she was sent to Lowood, a boarding school for orphaned girls, where she experienced a whole new life, though not necessarily better than her former years. She no longer had any sort of family to return home and the living conditions at Lowood were not any to be rewarded. Her eight years as a pupil did not end, however, as she continued on to become a teacher, and eventually sought a governess position elsewhere in England.

That brings Jane to the center of her story: Rochester Hall, with the stern-faced master, elderly housekeeper, spoiled French pupil, and the mystery within plaguing its halls. Before long, Jane’s governess position becomes more complicated, as she deals with Mr. Rochester. To tell you what happens from there, I would be ruining the story. But this is not even half of the story yet, as Jane embarks on a sort of journey that changes her life. That sounds extremely cliché, but it’s what happens. The events Jane experiences are so extraordinary that they do not seem realistic, but at the same time, I loved the ending.

My favorite part of this novel was the blunt way everything was depicted. Though disguised in flowery, 19th century English, Jane is quite to the point about everything she notices, and Bronte’s storytelling truly draws the reader in. Admittedly, it took me a while to read the novel because adjusting to the older style of English was difficult, but I could not have been happier to finish the book!

– Leila S., 11th grade

Jane Eyre, both the novel and its numerous television and film adaptations, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

prideandprejudice_janeaustenWhat has made Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s 19th century book, so timeless? We no longer live in an era where the only way to do well is to marry well. But, as it turns out, not much is different.

People today hold prejudices, albeit of different scales. What makes this an issue is if a person acts on those prejudices, without getting to know the truth. For example, I don’t like papaya or kiwi. I don’t remember if I actually tried the fruit when I was younger, but to this day, I refuse to eat the fruit. Maybe I had tried one bad kiwi, or had been influenced when my sister got sick after eating papaya. either way, I never tried it again. My pride comes into play, because I never want to be proven wrong. What if I ate a kiwi and loved it? Then I would be embarrassed for my embargo that has lasted my whole life so far. So to me, it’s best to never risk it.

Thinking about it now, this is definitely the wrong way to go about things. It may not seem serious, but this issue becomes serious in other circumstances. What if, instead of hating a type of fruit, someone hated a group of people? Maybe this was only because of one bad experience they had (or even heard about). Sometimes this hate can even be unfounded. People constantly make generalizations about people, which add bias to their actions, and they forget the most important virtue: to understand.

People need to understand why another person might have acted a certain way. It’s unfair to make judgments about a person without actually getting to know them. Elizabeth, in Pride and Prejudice, proved this. She was cold toward Mr. Darcy the entire book, thinking him a stuck-up, unfeeling man, and she was content in thinking this. But she soon found how much she was missing, finding out what Mr. Darcy had actually done (rather than hearing it in rumors from Mr. Darcy’s “enemy”) and seeing how kind and good-hearted Mr. Darcy had been to help Lizzy’s sister. (Spoiler alert!) Once she got to know him, her opinion widely changed.

Before long, her prejudices were broken, though perhaps not entirely gone. Before, she was too proud to admit that she could be wrong, but by the end, she realized her mistake. She then had to convince others of her feelings, since her previous prejudices had rubbed off on the rest of her family. Long story short, she had a lot to learn by getting to know another person. Just by giving him a chance to explain himself, Elizabeth radically changed her (and Mr. Darcy’s) life.

Thus, a lot can be learned from Jane Austen’s novel. I mean, for me, I’m definitely going to try kiwi this weekend. But for the rest of my life, the message of Pride and Prejudice will stay with me. I hope that those of you who have read this classic will keep the message in mind. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I truly recommend it.

-Leila S., 11th grade

Pride and Prejudice is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.