Book Review: The White Album by Joan Didion

White Album (FSG Classics): Didion, Joan: 8601405596765: Amazon.com: Books

The White Album by Joan Didion is a epistographical novel covering the turbulent period from the 1960s-1970s. Spanning topics including the Black Panthers, the Manson murders, and even the collapse of her own marriage, the book critically examines the meaningless experience of existence and the atomization of society during this time period.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” reads the opening line of the book. From that instant, I was hooked. I’ve been reading Didion’s oeuvre for more than a year now, starting with Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a required reading my junior year of high school. That book changed my life, and The White Album did not disappoint either. Her perfectly restrained emotion, her clarity of thought, and her perceptive insights combine to lend meaning to even some of the most senseless experiences of the 60s- such as the Manson murders. Didion even details, with the delicate removal of writing a grocery list, her meetings with Linda Kasabian, key witness in the Manson trial. She speaks of the short silk dress she wore to her wedding- and in the next sentence, mentions a similar white dress she herself purchased for Kasabian to wear on the first day of her testimony. The compassion she reserves for some is replaced with acrid disdain for others- Doris Lessing is described as someone who “does not want to ‘write well.’ Her leaden disregard for even the simplest rhythms of language, her arrogantly bad ear for dialogue- all of that is beyond her own point.” Even Huey Newton, a key leader of the Black Panthers is not spared- she describes him as “someone for whom safety lies in generalization.” She relates every experience with the utmost honesty and provides a matte-glass window into the experiences of our country’s, and her personal, pasts.

I would recommend this book to anyone, really! I’m a huge Joan Didion fan 🙂

-Vaidehi B.

The White Album by Joan Didion is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Heartstopper

Heartstopper

by Alice Oseman

This heartwarming collection of comics follows Nick and Charlie as they discover their growing attraction to one another that bloomed from friendship. Both attending the same private boy’s school, Nick and Charlie become fast friends after being placed next to each other in the class seating chart. While Charlie announced his sexuality last school year, Nick struggles to find himself as he discovers his feelings for Charlie are more than friendship. Heartstopper Volume 1 shows their friendship growing as they slowly gather the courage to approach the other about their feelings. Their relationship continues to grow throughout the other volumes as they near the end of their high school experience (there are a total of 4 so far).

Volume 1 of Heartstopper, while short, is the most genuine and wholesome romance comic I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This comic never fails to bring a smile to my face as I follow these two goofballs through their high school experience and watch as their romantic relationship grows. If you are looking for tension and drama, Heartstopper is not the comic for you. This book only contains healthy communication, friendship, bonding, and growing into oneself. It highlights the struggles each character faces and how they overcome them with the help of their friends and families. Each character offers a new perspective and challenges to overcome. The entire Heartstopper series toke me a day and a half to devour and as I eagerly await new volumes to be published, I remember the sweet and touching moments of this story.

This series has even become a Netflix series! Make sure to check that out. The entire Heartstopper series is also available for free on Webtoon and Tapas.

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue is the sequel to the first book, The Giver, also by Lois Lowry. However, this story does not follow the main character of The Giver, Jonas. Instead, Gathering Blue follows a new protagonist named Kira. 

Kira lives in a village in which its society does not accept those who have disabilities, such as Kira. Kira has had a damaged leg since birth and the society does not accept her. Recently, her mother died, leaving her with no parents,  giving her no protection from society. She is put on trial to be sent to the Field where the dead, disabled, or seriously injured are brought. In the end, the council decides that she will work as The Weaver. Her friend, Matt, helps in gathering her belongings and brings them to where Kira will stay. As her job, Kira repairs the robe of the Singer (another person given a special task), and over time, meets and befriendsThomas the Carver. As the story progresses, Kira, Matt, and Thomas grow close and together, and they uncover the dark secrets of the village. 

Gathering Blue was a good book and it has some similar elements as The Giver. Both books have a type of society that does not accept those who are not up to standard and each has a place for those kinds of people. There are many similarities between The Giver and Gathering Blue, but each book is its own book. As I followed Kira, I got to understand her want to be useful or wanted and I was able to see her growth throughout the book. And along with her, I got to find out more about the village and the secrets that are kept. I found Gathering Blue to be a calmer book than The Giver. It wasn’t as exciting and was more complex in its plot. The plot itself was a little boring, but I did find the small clues to secrets to be interesting. Although the plot wasn’t amazing, I did like the characters and their relationships. 

Kira was a very shy girl in the beginning, but still wanted to be able to stick up for herself. By the end of the book, she had grown into an independent and strong character, who was confident despite not being accepted into society. Thomas was a good friend to Kira, supportive and kind, but still made his own decisions. He wasn’t involved in the plot of the story too much, but he had a nice personality. Matt was a young kid, by the way he talks and acts; it was easy to see that. He didn’t have many manners and it was like he was living on the streets. He was a funny character but wanted to make Kira happy. He disappears midway through the book to go on an adventure, but comes back after acquiring something for Kira at a new village he had discovered. His personality was loud and ambitious and stuck out. 

Overall, Gathering Blue was a good book. Although it wasn’t as good as The Giver and wasn’t as exciting, it made for a good short read. I finished it in a couple of weeks, but I found it too short, without any real buildup. The plot was too calm and it felt like there wasn’t a climax; like it didn’t contribute to anything in the series except to introduce new characters. It felt like a filler book. Some of it felt rushed and I didn’t like the transitions into new parts of the story. Once I finished the book, I found that it ends in a cliffhanger. I have the third book of The Giver Quartet, The Messenger, and I’ll get to reading that soon. 

-Nicole R.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowery is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is an autobiography by Michelle Obama, and it is absolutely amazing. I first chose to pick up this book because Michelle Obama is my celebrity idol — whenever someone asks me a question like “If you could meet any celebrity, who would you meet?”, my answer has been Michelle Obama since I was little. Her accomplishments are absolutely amazing and inspiring.

This book is comparatively long, but the vocabulary that Michelle Obama uses, as well as her sentence structures are easy to comprehend. Yet, every word has an important meaning. In this book, Michelle Obama outlines her personal life, from growing up in the South Side of Chicago, to how she handled the election and the press, to the way she made a point to be present at her daughters’ bedtime despite her many responsibilities as First Lady. 

The book is divided into three sections: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. As the names suggest, the first section is about Michelle Obama’s childhood and background. She discusses her family values, education, and jobs before meeting Barack Obama. The second section includes Michelle Obama’s family life with Barack Obama, and her support throughout his political journey beginning with public service and ending the night of the 2008 election. She talks about her emotions, and the confusions of how everyone wanted her to act versus how she wanted to be perceived and what message she wanted to convey. The final section discusses her life in the White House as First Lady. This part was especially interesting, since she tells us about her famous initiatives like Let’s Move, but readers get a much deeper understanding into her motivation and her mindset. It’s honestly really fun how personal her book is.

It is interesting to see her viewpoint on the election and White House life — she expresses a clear dislike for politics and even says that “the political world was no place for good people”. The way I understand it, Michelle Obama’s motivation throughout the journey was her belief that Barack Obama would be an amazing president. She had been by his side for some time and had seen his passion for helping people, and she knew that he would continue and extend this passion to all Americans.

I would give this autobiography a 5/5. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We all know about Michelle Obama’s achievements, but we are not aware of what was going through her head during elections and travels, or about her background and childhood. It was very interesting to read about her personal journey — the one that the news has not covered.

-Ayati M.

Authors We Love: Elisabetta Dami

Although the most acknowledgeable authors tend to be writers of adult novels or even young adult books, it doesn’t mean that children’s book authors should get any less credit. At around age seven or eight, I remember my mom and I would visit the Mission Viejo Library practically every week. I would always go to the children’s section and look for another book to read—specifically any book from the Geronimo Stilton series. Only now in my high school years would I finally reminisce on my past and realize who was behind all of the stories that established my love for reading.

An award-winning author with her worldwide Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton books, Elisabetta Dami was born in Milano, Italy. Her father was a writer himself before she was born, so by the age of 13, Dami was already working for him as a book editor. At 19 years old, she began writing stories of her own but only began publishing them later in her life. In her 20s, she went through a series of adventures by earning her pilot license, traveling all around the world, running marathons, and even immersing herself in indigenous cultures.

With a passion for seeing the world, volunteering for sick children, studying different cultures around her, and creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Dami incorporated her love for adventure into stories for children. This was essentially the birth of the Geronimo Stilton series. The first book was titled, Geronimo Stilton: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye (2000), starring a shy mouse who owns a newspaper company, yet falls into the most dangerous situations and uses academic knowledge to find his way out.

As the popularity of the series grew, Dami continued writing more books that branched out to create a world of her own. Some of her best books include The Kingdom of Fantasy (2003), Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House (2000), and The Phantom of the Subway (2000). The author has written over 100 children’s books, published them in 49 different languages, and has sold 180 million copies globally. She continues writing at the age of 63 and helps kids all around the world develop a profound love for reading.

I used to be a huge fan of Elisabetta’s novels; as I look back on my childhood, I’m able to see how much of an impact her books had in my life. Although it’s relaxing to sit down with a nice book, I admit that my passion for reading has somewhat diminished. Perhaps it was easier to entertain children through the art of storytelling than in our modern age, or maybe it’s simply because I haven’t picked up an enticing book in a while. Nonetheless, it’s always nice to appreciate—and thank—the authors who hold a centerpiece of our childhood.

– Natisha P.

Authors We Love: Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur Has Been Accused of Plagiarism: Did She Steal ...

Rupi Kaur is a Canadian-Indian poet known for her prose publications Milk and Honey, The Sun and her Flowers, and most recently, Home Body.

Born in Punjab, India, on 5th October 1992, Kaur immigrated to Canada with her family when she was very young. She grew up poor- her father was a truck driver who was on the road for long periods of time, and her mother was often busy taking care of Kaur’s three younger siblings. However, poetry and art were a large part of her upbringing- her father would write prose poems for her mother, and her mother loved to paint. When she was still a university student, she began posting her short prose poems onto Instagram, and gained a modest following on her social media platforms. In 2009, she began performing her poems for small events, under the simple stage name of “Kaur.” After dozens of failed submissions to publishing houses, journals, and magazines, Kaur self-published her first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, in 2014. The book was a massive success, and later re-published by Andrews McMeel- one of the leading poetry publishers in America. Three years later, in 2017, Kaur released The Sun and her Flowers. It was an even greater success than Milk and Honey, garnering Kaur millions of dollars in book sales and millions of new followers across her social media platforms. In November 2020, Kaur released her third book- Home Body. The book became one of the bestselling books of the year.

Kaur’s work deeply resonated with me personally. In her writing, she discusses prominent themes in today’s world. She succinctly and beautifully captures the niche feelings of growing up an immigrant in a new country, in a new world- especially as a young girl. She also masterfully dissects sensitive topics such as those of sexual violence, and the politicization/sexualization of women’s bodies in today’s society. Her writing is simple, beautiful, and therapeutic to read. They are truly incredible dissertations on everything from the fallacies of love to the difficulties of family to the oscillating pendulum of self-love and self-hate that people often have with their bodies. I would recommend her work to everyone!

-Vaidehi B.

All three books mentioned above contain some sexual themes that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is available for checkout from Mission Viejo Library. Milk and Honey and Home Body can both be downloaded for free on Overdrive.

Authors We Love: Junji ItĹŤ

American horror typically depicts a psycho lurking around in a motel, zombies brought back from the dead, or clowns eating frightened children. Junji ItĹŤ has shaped the way viewers define horror forever, bringing stories to life by drawings made from ink and paper. Unlike American horror, he illustrates supernatural events such as mysterious spirals, blood-sucking vampire bats, and much more.

Born on July 31st, 1963 in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan, Junji ItĹŤ developed his love for horror at a young age. His older sisters would read him Kazuo Umezu and Shinichi Koga–famous horror manga authors during the 1960s–in Japanese magazines. Other authors such as Hideshi Hino, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Shinichi Koga, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edogawa Ranpo became major influences to his work as well.

Junji ItĹŤ’s career as a manga author began around the 1980s, when he won the Kazuo Umezu Prize after entering a short tale to Gekkan Halloween. The submission later turned into a Japanese horror manga series titled Tomie. Afterwards, he quit his previous job and pursued his hobby of writing and drawing as a full career.

Junji ItĹŤ’s works were popular in Japan, yet they only gained popularity in the United States late into his career. In 2019, ItĹŤ won an Eisner Award for his manga reinterpretation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Known as the Academy Awards of the comic industry, ItĹŤ became one of few foreigners to receive an Eisner Award. This year, he was once again nominated for an Eisner Award under the category of “The Best Writer/Artist” for his horror comic Jigokusei Remina.

Most of Junji ItĹŤ’s creations portray a dark, impulsive universe filled with the worst traits in any human, specifically greed, jealousy, and irrationality. There are recurring themes of grotesque horror, inevitable consequences of one’s own actions, seemingly ordinary characters that gradually submit to compulsion, and settings that break down and collapse into a state which reflects our own society. As a result, all of his mangas portray the beauty and underlying horror in every story. ItĹŤ’s most popular manga is arguably Uzumaki, a three-volume novel that depicts the journey of a teenager, Kirie Goshima, who witnesses an ordinary town fall under a curse of spirals. Another famous novel is Smashed, consisting of multiple short stories such as addictive honey that flattens those who drink it, a valley of mirrors, and “earthbound” people. These novels may be the most well-known, but ItĹŤ has a variety of underrated books, series, and movies to choose from.

As a lover of horror, I’ve grown to admire Junji ItĹŤ’s novels for their distinctive illustrations and plots. They truly allow readers to feel more than just fear. The ties between ItĹŤ’s fictional and nonfictional factors truly brings out different emotions because it reflects our own world.

Junji ItĹŤ is still alive at the age of 57. Although he may not be publishing any novels in the near future, his history of twisted tales that connect our deepest unknown fears to real life truly proves he’s the master of horror.

-Natasha P.

The works of Junji Ito are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Author’s We Love: John Green

You may recognize some of the famous novels Paper Towns, The Fault In Our Stars, or Looking for Alaska. As you may have guessed by the title, these iconic novels were written by John Green. John Green is an American author, who makes content on YouTube, and is a co-creator of Crash Course. He attended Kenyon College and earned his bachelor of art’s degree with a double major in English and religious studies.

John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, The Fault In Our Stars, Turtles All The Way Down, and The Anthropocene Reviewed. While the majority of these are novels, The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of essays that are nonfiction and awakening. He very recently went on a virtual tour for The Anthropocene Reviewed which took place from May 17th to May 22nd. His novel, The Fault In Our Stars was made into a movie, as was his novel, Paper Towns. Additionally, Looking for Alaska was made into a series on Hulu. On his and his brother’s YouTube channel (VlogBrothers) they help fight poverty by raising money and have planted thousands of trees in the past. On top of this, he teaches World History, Literature, Economics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Government, and etc., on Crash Course along with other people. 

Personally, I love reading John Green’s novels and seeing them in film as well. I’ve noticed that a lot of his books are deep, detailed, and original. His books have always made me think bigger and open my eyes to the different situations the characters are in. Overall, John Green is definitely an amazing author to check out and keep up with. He’s making a great impact on the world.

-Kaitlyn Y.

The works of John Green are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George is a naturalist, illustrator, and author.  Born in 1919 in Washington DC, George developed her love of nature from her family.  All being naturalists, together they’d hike mountains, climb trees to study owls, and make their own fish hooks out of twigs.  

This love of nature carried over to her writing as George eventually graduated from Pennsylvania State University with degrees in Science and English.  She is known for uniquely combining her careers into engaging fictional stories that take place in real, vividly described ecosystems. 

One of her most famous books, My Side of the Mountain, takes place in the Catskill mountains and involves a boy, named Sam, who attempts to make a home for himself in the wild.  The novel details the day to day life of Sam and features illustrations of some of his creations, including shelters, traps, and whistles.  While the book is an amazing read for nature lovers due to its setting, the trials of surviving in the snow, finding food, and the mystery of an unstable environment makes it a tale of suspense that is perfect for adventure-lovers too.  

Other novels by Jean Craighead George include:

  • Julie of the Wolves (Newberry Prize Winning) 
  • The Fire Bug Connection
  • There’s an Owl in the Shower
  • Water Sky
  • Charlie’s Raven 
  • Shark Beneath the Reef 
  • On the Far Side of the Mountain (Sequel to My Side of the Mountain)

-Giselle F. 

The works of Jean Craighead George are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Authors We Love: Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy's Wessex - Wyntersea Productions Inc Wyntersea Productions Inc

“Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.” 

    â€• Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England. While his father, Thomas Sr., was content with poverty and rural life, Hardy’s mother Jemima, who was well-read herself, encouraged her young son’s education. At 22 years old, Hardy entered the architecture field by studying the same at King’s College in London, winning prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects as well as the Architectural Association. Despite this, Hardy despised London and its climate, and, having fallen to poor health, moved to Bockhampton to recover after five years of urban living. 

It was in this picturesque village that Hardy first tried his hand at published writing. While his first few works were not major successes, if published at all, he finally struck gold, so to speak, with Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874. Hardy’s subsequent wealth allowed him to finally marry and give up his architectural practice. While living with his wife in a cottage at Sturminster Newton, Hardy published the five major novels collectively of the theme of “Character and Environment”: The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895), and enjoyed what he himself called the happiest years of his life. 

While Hardy had always dabbled in poetry, the public’s hostile reaction to the scandalous events chronicled in Jude the Obscure motivated him to become more involved in the poetic universe. The horrors of the First World War greatly influenced the dark, hopeless themes of his late works, including the epic drama in verse, The Dynasts, and a second verse play, The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall. Because of these incredible works as well as others, Hardy was awarded the Order of Merit by King Edward. 

Sadly, in December of 1927, Hardy became ill with pleurisy and died on 11 January 1928. After some controversy over his burial site, it was eventually decided that his heart would be buried with his first wife in Dorset, while the rest of his body would be laid to rest in the distinguished Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Thomas Hardy left a lasting impact on the literary world, through both his award-winning novels and his stunning poetry, which inspired and continues to inspire many writers all around the world.

-Mahak M.

The works of Thomas Hardy are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.