The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

houseonmangostreet_sandracisnerosThe House on Mango Street, a book by Sandra Cisneros, highlights the life of a Latina girl growing up in poverty. Desperate to escape her seemingly predestined fate of unhappiness, the protagonist Esperanza writes her story and her path to salvation. The story is told through a series of vignettes, all expressing Esperanza’s deeply rooted emotions of joy and sadness. Throughout the events that occur on Mango Street, we can see that Esperanza is surrounded by women trapped either by themselves, or by the men in their lives. Esperanza’s fate is closely intertwined with these women, whom she discovers have similar motives to her own. Not only does Esperanza want to escape their fate, she wants to do so by defining herself.

Although The House on Mango Street is a hard book to truly understand and grasp, by nature of its writing style and subtle complexities, it highlights so many themes that are relevant in our society. Among them, the struggles of self definition ranks highly. Cisneros is able to illustrate the struggle of defining yourself amidst opposition from forces that we have no control over, such as our gender, race, and socioeconomic status. All too often throughout the story, the reader sees girls who change themselves in their desperate plight to be accepted. The only question to ask yourself is, to what extent must a person go to live the life that they dream of?

-Mirabella S.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida

picturebride_yoshikouchidaPicture Bride, a novel by Yoshiko Uchida, is the story of a teenage girl named Hana who is sent to America. She carries a picture of a man she has been arranged to marry but has yet to meet. Traveling an ocean away from her once noble Japanese family, Hana is promised that in America, she will live a life of comfort with her merchant husband, Taro Takeda. Hana is devastated when she finds not a successful merchant in San Francisco, but an impoverished shopkeeper who can barely provide for himself. However, despite her many trials, Hana and her husband learn to be happy in a marriage that seemed doomed to fail. San Francisco was not kind to Japanese immigrants in the mid-twentieth century, and Hana soon found herself faced with racism and hardships, all leading up to the one event that would change her life: the Japanese internment camps.

This novel has become one of my all time favorites, not only because of the wonderful writing style that Uchida uses, but because of his portrayal of Hana Takeda. Hana shows us rare insight into the mind of a young immigrant woman. Forced into a situation that she cannot control, Hana learns to adapt to a society that seems out to get her from the moment she sets foot on its shores. In her time period, women’s rights, especially those of an immigrant woman, were stifled. Hana was expected to be a homemaker and a mother. Graceful and dignified, Hana dares to quietly go against the norms of her culture and become an independent woman who struggles to adapt to a foreign nation and values.

-Mirabella S.

Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

ruinsoflace_irisanthonyThe Ruins of Lace is a historical fiction novel written by Iris Anthony that follows the journey of one particularly beautiful piece of lace through France. But wait! There is one catch: the possession of lace in France was forbidden. So how does the lace make its perilous journey all the way from Flanders to France, wreaking havoc on the lives of the people it encounters? The novel showcases seven unique characters, whose actions all influence each other.

The Ruins of Lace begins from the point of view of Katharina, who is a lowly lace maker in a convent. Hard labor has made her blind, and she fears what will happen when she can no longer weave her precious lace. Her sister wants to free her from her slavery, but it comes at a steep price she cannot afford. Then, the story is told from the point of view of an abused dog used to smuggle the lace that Katharina wove into France. A border guard, Denis, is supposed to prevent this, but proves he doesn’t have the heart to hurt the peasants who enter France. Then the story progresses into a new class, when the daughter of a viscount owes an unattainable amount of lace to the Count of Montreau, and can only hope to find it with the help of her cousin Alexandre Lefort. The puppet master of all these seemingly unconnected people is the Count of Montreau himself, who needs a spectacular piece of lace to appease the cardinal who, under instruction from the count’s father, will take away his title and inheritance.

I particularly enjoyed this novel because of the amazing character development that it had. In a novel, sometimes an author does not even adequately develop their protagonist. That is far from true in The Ruins of Lace, as Anthony is able to make the reader grow attached to every character, no matter how seemingly minor they may at first appear to be. Also, this book is a must read for people who not only enjoy a good adventure novel, but for people who enjoy puzzles. Each character influences the others in a profound way, regardless of whether they actually encounter each other. This gives the impression of the book being like a piece of Katharina’s lace; it is composed of many interwoven strands that come together to make a spectacular final artwork.

-Mirabella S.

The Story of Samhain

It’s finally October, and most of us can already feel the chilly autumn air, taste the pumpkin spice, and are eagerly preparing for – you guessed it! – Halloween. Whether you dress up in a costume, go trick or treating, or tell a ghost story this October, you should know that there was somebody 2,000 years ago who not only practiced these traditions, but created Halloween itself.

2,000 years ago, a group of people called the Celtics, who resided in parts of modern day Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France, celebrated a pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) that celebrated the blurring of boundaries between the worlds of the living and of the dead. On the night of October 31, they dressed in animal skins and gathered around bonfires to ward of wandering spirits that may have come through this rift between worlds. Families would leave sweets on their porches and dinner on their tables for any passed relatives that they believed would come home for the night. Samhain is thought to be the earliest noted origin of our modern Halloween.

By 43 AD, Rome had conquered most of the Celtic’s territory. As often occurs during the conquest of land, ideas and traditions were added onto the Celtic culture. Now, Samhain included two Roman holidays: Feralia, which celebrated the passing of spirits into the afterlife, and also a day in honor of Pomona, which is thought to have included bobbing for apples, as is tradition today in America. Later on, Pope Gregory the III dedicated November 1 to all saints and martyrs, otherwise known as All Hallows Day, and in the year 1000 AD, November 2 was declared All Souls Day, a day honoring the dead. It is common belief that this action was meant to change the pagan traditions of Halloween, the eve of All Hallows Day, into a holiday that was accepted by the church.

Halloween was brought to the United States as most traditions were: immigration. Before the 19th century, Halloween wasn’t a nationally celebrated holiday. However, hordes of Irish immigrants fleeing the shortage of food in Ireland, known as the potato famine, found refuge in America and spread knowledge of the traditions of Samhain. People went door-to-door asking for food or money, and teenage girls thought that they could predict their future husbands using apple peelings and mirrors. By the end of the century, the meaning of Halloween changed from superstitious beliefs to neighborhood parties and trick-or-treating in response to action taken by people to turn Halloween into a family friendly holiday. The trick-or-treating tradition likely began based off of a tradition where people were given food on All Souls Day in return for prayers for deceased family members. It was also influenced by an increase in vandalism during Halloween night, which adults hoped to avoid by offering children small candies, hoping to satisfy them enough to pass over their homes.

Halloween hasn’t always been known as Halloween. Once, it was known as Samhain, a holiday that was celebrated by the Celtics as a time when realms blurred and spirits could visit their homes once again. Ironically, many of the same traditions are used today as they were so long ago by the Celtics. Next time you go trick-or-treating or wear a Halloween costume, remember that you are living out a tradition that has stood the test of time for thousands of years!

Sources: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

lordoftheflies_williamgoldingLord of the Flies is an allegory by William Golding, following the robinsonade storyline of a group of schoolboys stranded on a tropical island. After the boys crash land on a deserted island, they form a mock government and mimic the society they once knew in hopes of being rescued. However, as priorities conflict among the leaders of the clan, a group of boys who wish to be savages, hunting and playing all day with painted faces, leaves the main society. Chaos and death ensues, and the once innocent boys become dark-hearted and desperate.

One notable element of Lord of the Flies was Golding’s seamless blending of metaphors and symbolism into an exciting adventure novel. Each boy on the island symbolized a certain aspect of mankind’s priorities, and their fatal flaws. For example, the protagonist, Ralph, symbolized democracy and order, and the antagonist, Jack, symbolized savagery. Other symbols were clearly evident throughout the novel, truly forcing the reader to contemplate both their meanings and their relevance on the island, that was closely mirrored to society in real life.

I personally loved this novel. Golding’s view on human nature, saying that humans are innately evil, and the pull towards savagery will always trump democracy, was refreshing in a world of overly optimistic novels. Although everybody loves a heartwarming novel about the triumph of good over evil, Golding’s opposite viewpoint was truly fascinating. I loved how flawlessly Golding was able to mirror the world on his fictitious island. Not only was the literary aspect of the novel amazing, it was fun to read. You’ll be hard pressed to put this book down once you start it!

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is looking for an exciting page turner of an adventure novel.

-Mirabella S.

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.