The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The novel begins off strong with a major accident in the country of India involving Ashoke Ganguli, one of the main characters, on October 20, 1961 between Calcutta and Jamshedpur. He survives his accident and fulfills his dream of becoming a professor while moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Ashima, six years later. As soon as they moved into their new home in the United States, Gogol Ganguli is born into the family.

Being an immigrant family that lacked knowledge of the entirety of American culture led the Ganguli family through their ups and downs as they settled down. One of the first problems faced within the first few chapters of the book is centered around Gogol. His parents had taught him that in Bengali culture, there were “good names”, which were to be used in public, and “pet names”, which were to be used by family and closed loved ones.

When Gogol first enters kindergarten, around the time of the birth of his little sister, he is confused when his parents ask the school principal to call him by Nikhil instead of his pet name, Gogol, that of which he was familiar with because his parents called him that. He refused to respond to Nikhil, so the young boy grew up to be known as Gogol, which would later turn on him. He was too young to understand that his parents were concerned that his name wouldn’t fit the American culture because it could not be turned into a nickname, like how Nikhil could’ve been turned into Nick.

As time passes, Gogol ages and as he ages, there is an evident sign of major influence of American culture upon him and his younger sister. He replies in English whilst his parents speak to him in Bengali, he lacks interest in Bengali music and finds himself becoming a hard-core fan of the Beatles. He slowly loses the Bengali culture that his parents migrated to America with and grows to be more of an independent individual instead of growing up group-oriented, like his parents.

Jhumpa Lahiri does a beautiful job with not only allowing the story to come alive in the reader’s mind, but also painting a detailed picture and giving the reader all of the character’s opinions based of actions and dialogue, feelings and thoughts. The summary above explains only a small, but would grow to be significant, problem in the Ganguli family, especially Gogol. As the novel continues, every detail given about any character is a development and is almost treated like a puzzle piece to a greater picture of how immigrant families struggle in a foreign country while trying to maintain their culture as they practiced American culture.

The Namesake is a cultural and emotional themed book that pulls the reader in for a need to read more. Personally, I found a connection to this book as I was reading it, allowing myself to easily be able to fully immerse into the story.

-Anyssa P.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

TV Review: The Umbrella Academy

Earlier this year, Netflix took the streaming world by storm once again with the release of its own original superhero ensemble TV-show, The Umbrella Academy. It follows the Hargreeves family, a family composed of seven adopted children, six of whom are superpowered. When the family learns that the world is going to end in eight days, they are forced to confront their childhood traumas and reunite to save the world. The show itself was released on February 15th, but it took me an appalling two months before I actually got around to watching it. When I finally did, it is safe to say that I was absolutely blown away. I binged the entire show in a single day. 10 hours worth of content, and I was riveted to the screen for every moment of it. So, what exactly makes this show so special?

There is no single answer to such a complex question, but after several re-watches, I can identify several elements which make the show so extraordinary (if you’ve seen the show- you see what I did there). When a viewer begins to watch The Umbrella Academy, the first thing which strikes them is how different this view of the superhero genre is from what we are so used to seeing. Most ensemble TV shows focus on the heroes, well, becoming heroes. The Umbrella Academy adeptly avoids this classic trope by presenting us with characters who are not learning to become heroes, but struggling with the fallout of their heroic childhoods. These so-called superheroes are deeply damaged, and their family dynamic is highly dysfunctional. The members of the Academy are not learning how to become heroes, but learning to cope with the struggles of everyday life after an abusive childhood. Of course, they have to save the world along the way, but the show leaves you with the impression that this plot is not as important as the development of the characters within it. Further, the plot itself is deeply shaped by character development of certain key characters who are coming to terms with their powers, or, their lack thereof.

Aside from subversion of the classic superhero origin story, The Umbrella Academy also sets itself apart from the pack through its depiction of relationships between characters. Each of the Hargreeves siblings has a unique connection with each other sibling, a fact which is never brushed over nor forgotten throughout the series. The tapestry of character connections is artfully written, artfully acted, and artfully produced. In essence, at every level of this show, attention was paid to depicting the interactions between its characters in a nuanced, cohesive way. Each character has highly specific thoughts and emotions towards each other character, many of which are unveiled gradually throughout the season.

There are so many other ways that The Umbrella Academy kept me hooked: the random, whimsical, yet dark nature of the show, multiple plotlines which eventually converge, leaving the viewer simultaneously dumbfounded and awestruck, LGBTQ+ representation, and an absolutely fire soundtrack. It would take an eternity for me to detail everything that I adored about this show.

I would recommend this show to any fans of the superhero genre who want to see a fresh take on the definition of heroism. However, one does not need to be a fan of superheroes to enjoy this show. If a whimsical, dark, time-travel centered mystery sounds at all interesting to you- give it a watch! I promise you will not be disappointed (A quick disclaimer- this show does discuss some mature themes and has several violent action sequences, hence its TV-14 rating, so it is definitely more suited to older audiences).

-Mirabella S.

The Umbrella Academy graphic novel by Gerard Way is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Image result for if beale street could talk book

This book would probably be my favorite book written so far by James Baldwin. It is a novel that deals a lot with racism and injustice. Personally, in some point of our life we all feel like we’ve been treated unfairly for no reason and I can relate a lot to this perspective. Whether it’s because of my nationality, skin color, gender, and or even physical appearance in general. Fonny doesn’t deserve to be put into jail because he was falsely accused of rape, but in a society where white people always prevails at that time, a black man couldn’t voice his opinion out freely.

Now Tish on the other hand really touches me a lot, I was deeply moved by her strong sense of love and determination. She didn’t leave Fonny because he was put into jail and even when she was pregnant with his child, she didn’t choose to do abortion. Speaking of the truth, I can’t see any glorious future between a black criminal and a teen mom. But Tish doesn’t seem to agree with me, her family doesn’t have a lot of money and yet they were willing to hire all kinds of lawyers just to accomplish an almost impossible mission-battling against the entire world.

I definitely would recommend this book to people that are having depression or feel like they don’t belong to this harsh world. No worries, this novella will make you know that there are people like you, you are not alone.

-Coreen C. 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Authors We Love: S.E. Hinton

Ideally, in every form, artists try to mold creations from what they see in their everyday lives and the world they have inherited. S.E. Hinton, boldly nicknamed called “the voice of the youth,” has demonstrated this artistry in each piece she has written, displaying the realities and complexities presented throughout her life growing up in the race and class divided 60s and 70s.

Two of her most famous books, The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now, are written from the perspectives of young boys experiencing the ups and downs of adolescence alongside their close friends and siblings. Though written over 50 years ago, the themes presented in her novels still ring true to this day, to children, teenagers, and adults alike. The slang used in her novels reflect the time periods in which they take place, making for nostalgia and remembrance of decades past.

Hinton’s writing style is simple yet sincere and is relatable to the wide variety of people contained in her audience. Her ability to describe her personal experiences through different lenses ultimately allows her to assimilate herself with the audience, strengthening the relationship between the reader and the author, bringing us closer together.

The events depicted in Hinton’s novels are strikingly mundane when presented alone, but with the accompaniment of her likable and authentic characters, they hit close to home. The ever-present themes of loyalty and friendship are heartfelt, and only make the stories all the more pleasant to read.

In addition to her publications, multiple films have been made as counterparts to her novels, including The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Similar to her writing, the films have an uncanny ability to universalize emotions and situations to strike the hearts and minds of the audiences.

Whether you are young or old, male or female — S.E. Hinton has something to offer. With her profound and humble stories, every aspect of the story comes full circle. Savvy?

—Keira D.

The works of S. E. Hinton are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin

Image result for just above my head

This is the sixth novel by James Baldwin, and again it is set in Harlem, New York where he grew up in. All of his books can be seen as children inappropriate but to some degree, I am just so engrossed in the realism aspect of these novels that I can’t seem to stop myself from checking out another one from the library. I actually really revered in the brotherhood of Hall and Arthur Montana. However, the character that made the most impression on me would certainly be Julia.

She was a child preacher from the age of eight and has since been a very devout Christian. Her parents always took huge pride in her which is also the reason why her brother hates her because she has all the attention of their parents. Gospel hymn quotations kind of adds a lyrical sense to the novel and thus suggests the fact that music has played a large part of the African American experience and life.

I know Julia did not want to be a preacher by heart or even believe in Christianity. However, she was a very filial girl and therefore would do anything to make her parents happy. By way of contrast when her mother passed away eventually due to health issues and his brother was sent away to her grandma because his father couldn’t endure him, Julia notices signs of degradation in her father. Which eventually, led to sexual assault and she was raped by her own father. Not only in the novel did I notice the main focus isn’t on racism anymore, but it just so much struck me when Baldwin employs a very vivid and strong way to protest against sexual abuse, a very morbid form when it was done by a father to his own daughter.

-Coreen C. 

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The young adult novel, Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell, is a heartwarming, but the soul-wrenching story about two sixteen-year-olds in Omaha, Nebraska from 1986 to 1987. The unique red-haired girl catches the heart of Park by merely sitting beside him on the bus. Their slow love sparked when she secretly reads his comic books, believing that she was sly enough to not get caught. Over time, Park noticed and decided to allow her to borrow his comic books.

However, at home, the young girl finds herself dealing with family issues revolving around poverty, so she ends up keeping to herself. She is terrified by her abusive stepfather and fears for her future to end up like her mother’s. Her thoughts are mostly clouded with judgment about her weight, which affects the way she thinks about her relationship with Park.

On the other hand, Park is trying to get through high school by being popular enough to not get teased but also finds it hard to fit in. He becomes an outsider, like Eleanor, but within his own house. His father and brother both have a liking towards sports and trucks, however, Park feels himself attracted to music and books.

The book duals between the narrative of Eleanor and Park, thus allowing the reader to connect with both of the characters. Teens can deeply connect to both characters, from the way they think to the way they act. The duo rides an emotional rollercoaster, taking the reader with them every step of the way.

Rowell does an exquisite job in taking in the attention of the reader and leaving them wanting more with this romantic, light read.

-Anyssa P.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Image result for Go Tell It on the Mountain (novel)

This is another semi-autographical novel which makes it itself another classic and the first major work Baldwin has written. For one thing, I feel like a lot of children should be able to sympathize with John Grimes: we all wish and hanker to be our parents’ favorite child. We take care of our younger siblings because we want our parents to feel proud of us. But then a lot of times life treats us as unequally as how it treats John Grimes, his father abuses him because he wasn’t of his blood, but merely the child between his mother Elizabeth and another man he doesn’t know.

And then there is Gabriel’s sister Florence. In my opinion, she really hates her little brother again because of how unfairly their mother treated her. This religious woman, although strict toward her son, made Florence do everything and even denied her of her education. Sexism forced Florence to leave home and doubt religion altogether with the existence and faith in God because such a sinful man like Gabriel could become a preacher.

My two favorite characters: John and Florence both serve as the centers of the theme of injustice. They didn’t do anything wrong or egregious for their parents to hate them, but one because of her gender, the other of his blood denied them of any attention and love they could possibly get which really saddens me a lot according to the descriptions they were given in the book. Since this is semi-autobiographical I am surmising here that the author James Baldwin probably was not the favorite child either if not the least favorite child liked by his parents with eight siblings.

-Coreen C. 

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library