If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Seventeen-year-old Mia Hall has everything other teenagers her age would want; a loving and relaxed family life, great grades, a charming boyfriend, and a supportive best friend. As a cello-prodigy, Mia awaits her soon-to-be acceptance letter to her dream university.

One snowy day, Mia and her family jam to their favorite songs in the car on the road. They had planned the perfect day-off. However, all goes wrong when an incoming car skids and crashes straight towards them. The moment stops and the reader waits eagerly, with palms sweating, to know what happens next through all of the author’s heart-wrenching details.

The novel follows Mia, in an out-of-body experience, as she has flashbacks on her life and loses the ones she loves. Her flashbacks are followed by heart-breaking scenes of her family and friends visiting her in a hospital while she is in a coma. The unspoken love between the Mia and her close ones makes the novel much more emotional.

The author’s style of switching between the past and present unfolds the significant purpose of a human life. The importance of sacrifice, family, love, death, and life all wrap up to tell Mia’s story. The conflict between choosing to fight endlessly to stay alive or fading away to the afterlife remains a mystery until the end.

Overall, this novel really opened my eyes and made me realize that life can change in an instant. No matter who we are, what we are going through in life, or where we are, death can take its toll. The author truly makes an important point about how fast life moves for the youth and the old. We should never take life for granted because this is all we have and there is only one shot at it.

Mia’s story emphasizes the importance of living in the moment. Our problem are just as big as we make them. However, just like Mia, our worldly problems are nothing in the face of death. Not all the readers of this book can realize that, but anyone who can relate will find its meaning. The novel, as well as the movie of If I Stay, moved me to tears and is one that sticks with you forever.

-Zohal N. 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

T.H. White’s 1958 novel is a must-read for all. The book follows the journey of a kingdom with dictators and soldiers that inspired your childhood bedtime stories about King Arthur and the wizard, Merlyn. The characters and plot were based on older novels and true events in history. The entire novel includes five shorter “books” filled with themes of knights, war, lost love, and unraveled secrets.

The first book called “The Sword in the Stone” also inspired the Disney adaption of the story. This book creates the setting for the entire journey and introduces the unknown future king, Arthur, as a young boy living as a peasant. Arthur learns, loves, hurts, and goes through multiple obstacles to find his inner truth.

Personally, the story stuck to me because of its well-thought plot and storyline that makes you feel like you are a part of its world. The story strikes you especially when you realize that the destiny of the characters was already written and known (by Merlyn) since the very first chapter of the book. For this reason, it feels overwhelming when you finally finish the novel and think of the different ways it could have ended.

White’s themes in The Once and Future King accurately apply in today’s world, despite the time between the book’s publication and now in the twenty-first century. This novel not only shows development in its characters but also within the reader.

Although this novel is recommended to be read by young adults, anyone eager enough to gain a higher understanding of the world can read it. Personally, The Once and Future King has stayed with me since I read it for my English class five years ago. Hopefully, the future readers of this novel come to love it and cherish it as much as the past readers have.

-Zohal N. 

The Once and Future King by T. H. White is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Written in the late 1800s, Henry David Thoreau’s essays tell of civil resistance in society. He believed that many laws were bound to be broken and the people had the right to protest. In his essays, he says that human laws overcome government laws.

As a transcendentalist writer, Thoreau believed that humans could live beyond reality and could not be limited by temporary worldly objects. He shuns the idea of materialism and embraces the power of nature. Thus, people must take advantage of their individual power given by nature and represent their opinions.

Surprisingly, the essays of Civil Disobedience still apply to society today. In the past, Thoreau created an act of civil disobedience by not paying his taxes in order to protest against slavery and the Mexican-American war.

Today, people around the world refuse to follow laws to stand for an issue they believe in. Similar to the nineteenth century, materialism has taken over many peoples’ minds and distracts them from politics, the environment, and other important things. The protests that happen in the twenty-first century go along with Thoreau’s words in his work. Just as Thoreau mentions, many protests and strikes need to create an act of civil disobedience to bring awareness to the matter at hand.

As written in the work, society cannot learn and fix their past mistakes without acts of civil resistance. Thoreau emphasizes how individuals must hold onto their personal beliefs and make a difference to advance their society. It is amazing to see how a series of essays from 200 years ago still accurately applies to our society today. This can also be a bit frightening as some negative aspects of governments around the world have not been changed.

-Zohal N. 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

As one of Hemingway’s many classics, The Old Man and the Sea retells the story of man versus nature. Hemingway writes the novel in such a way that makes the reader urge for more.

The story begins with Santiago, an aged and experienced fisherman who has been out on the sea for 84 days with no luck of finding fish to catch. He is viewed as a lonely outcast to the rest of society, and his own apprentice is told to stay away from him. Santiago is even labeled as a word that means unluckiness in his native language.

Santiago’s character can be seen in today’s world in people who are still waiting for a win or change in their lives. Many individuals are still on their journey to reach their goals in life just like Santiago. Suddenly, on the 85th day, a large marlin takes the bait on Santiago’s hook that is 200 yards deep in the water. The marlin is massive and unlike anything, Santiago has ever seen in his years of fishing. Through the next days and nights, the marlin holds onto the line, but it is too heavy for Santiago to lift.

From breaking his wrist to cramping his whole body and not being able to sleep properly, Santiago risks everything he has to catch the great marlin and lift his pride. Finally, the marlin is caught, but Santiago admires and feels like he built a brotherly relationship with the animal.

Santiago’s story reflects the human relationship with nature that is filled with admiration and struggles. His character is not defined by his defeat or “unluckiness”, but rather his determination. It takes courage to endure pain and hardships.

Hemingway uses such symbolism and words that the novel requires an analytical mind to read. Every small detail is impressively used to build the theme of the novel in the end. This book can be read by anyone as young or as old because everyone is eventually lead to the same motif about life.

-Zohal N. 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What if your family had no choice but to pack up all your belongings into a small car and travel a thousand miles on the road? And the destination is no place like home? What would you do?

Set in the “Dirty Thirties” during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, the Grapes of Wrath highlights the Joad family as they plan their new future in California, where workers are needed. In their eyes, California is their dream land and the rumored “Promised Land.” The family of thirteen people pack their necessities and are determined to take on the rigorous road to California.

Tom Joad, one of the main characters, leads his family through the obstacles on the road that include starvation and extreme heat. Each family member looks onto the road while facing internal and external challenges. The novel essentially teaches the importance of holding onto dignity and hope during hardships. The Joad family not only maintain hope for a better future, but they also unite together as a family.

Steinbeck additionally embraces the ideal American dream that, in reality, starts within the individuals with hope and determination. His use of symbols and literary devices portray the motif of endurance.

Overall, Steinbeck’s novel makes the reader go on his or her own journey while reading about the up’s and down’s of the Joads. At the end of the long path, the reader realizes that the obstacles they had to face teach them more about their ultimate destination.

-Zohal N. 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire is set two years after the end of World War II in New Orleans. The play follows the lives of two differentiating sisters: Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois. 

Stella chose to leave their home in Belle Reves to marry Stanley Kowalski and explore the reality of the world. Meanwhile, Blanche held on to the fake riches and luxury of Belle Reves until all her loved ones died. 

Blanche brings the daydreams and illusions of her Southern Belle persona to visit her sister. While she lives in the cramped flat with Stella and Stanley, Blanche builds a fake personality to charm everyone and hide her dark past. Eventually, Stanley reveals Blanche’s secrets to Stella and uncovers what truly drove her to insanity – desire.

 Thus, the play focuses on the theme of illusion versus reality. Williams shows the audience of the terrible consequences that come from not owning up to your own actions. He emphasizes the ideal “Romantic” era in contrast to the cruel reality of World War II’s effect. 

The play’s symbols, irony, and allusions tie in beautifully in order to make the reader understand the underlying tragedy. However, this classic book is recommended for analytical individuals or for those who want to reach out of their comfort zone. I loved reading this dramatic literature as I am sure others would too.

-Zohal N. 

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library