Book Review: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Farewell to Manzanar is Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s personal, non-fiction account of life inside the Japanese internment camps that the US government put in place during World War ΙΙ. Although many Americans acknowledge the injustice that was done to Japanese Americans during the period that they were relocated to camps along the western interior of the US, less Americans understand the full truth of what life was like inside these war relocation camps. In Farewell to Manzanar, Wakatsuki tells the story of her family’s time in Manzanar, their assigned camp, as well as detailing the repercussions that this experience had on her family.

One of the most interesting parts about Wakatsuki’s story is that she puts a great deal of focus on her life pre and post war. She does not talk only about her family’s incarceration, but also of their home before the turmoil of the war. She laces the chapters with memories from before her time in Manzanar. Wakatsuki also taps into the memories of her family in chapters where she is not the narrator. This story is not simply one about war; it also talks about a young girl growing up and discovering her interests in a place far from her home.

-Mirabella S.

 

Farewell to Manzanar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

 

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm is an allegorical novel by George Orwell that tells the story of the Russian Revolution through farm animals. At first glance, the book is nothing more than a fairy tail, but behind this façade is the barely concealed rage from Orwell, who grew disillusioned with the ideals of communism after watching how its system of government played out for Russia. The book follows Joseph Stalin’s rise to power as a dictator in a society that, in theory, was supposed to be shared among all of the working class. In spite of the cruel treatment that the ruling class dishes out to them, the working class remains oblivious of the freedoms being stripped from them until it is too late to fight back against it.

As I mentioned before, the book is about Stalin’s rise to power. However, the story is about animals. So, which animal represents Stalin? Finding out is half of the fun of reading the book. With minimal knowledge about the Russian Revolution, you can deduce which animal represents each political figure or societal class, as well as which events in the book represent major turning points in Russia’s history.

When reading Animal Farm, I could not help but be in awe of how flawlessly Orwell seamed each historical event into the book. Every turn of the page brings new excitement, and I found myself actually getting emotional throughout some points in the story. It is a strange experience to watch as a group of people, or “animals”, slowly become oppressed by a government that they thought would save them from their oppressors. Whether this cycle of power is told through the eyes of animals or humans, the disturbances that it can cause can shape the course of history, as we have seen it do time and time again. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys history, or simply wants a read that will make them think.

-Mirabella S., 9th grade

Animal Farm by George Orwell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Hoopla.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem, a dystopian novel by Ayn Rand, is certainly a unique piece of literature. Described by herself as not a book, but a poem, and with a plot lasting less than 50 pages, Anthem is an ode to Objectivism. Written in 1937, imagined in the Soviet Union, Rand wrote the book in a time of political turmoil, which is reflected in her writing.

The story follows Equality 7-2521, a man who lives in an entirely collectivist society. Forbidden to think individual thoughts or exercise free will, Equality knows that something is wrong with the world he lives in. Since he was a child, he was different than his peers: he was always curious. When it is time for him to be assigned a job, he is not given the job of a scholar, as he wishes, but is sentenced to a life sweeping streets for this essential sin. However, this dark future opens up to light, quite literally, when he makes a revolutionary discovery.

Without spoiling the plot of the story, I can say that the book praises the human ego. Ego seems today to have a negative connotation, like a person obsessed with themselves. It can almost be confused with narcissism. Whatever picture that you have in your mind of “ego”, put it out. In this context, Rand praises man’s control over his own mind, man’s independence, and man’s freedom to learn, be successful, and make choices for himself. As shown in the book, ego is a beautiful thing that society falls apart without. Anthem is the perfect, short read for anybody who wants to have more food for thought than even some average length novels can provide.

-Mirabella S. Grade 9

Anthem by Ayn Rand is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

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