My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier

This year for school, one of the required books to read for English was called My Brother Sam Is Dead written by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier. When I first heard we were going to be reading this book, I was intrigued by the title. I thought it was a bit funny to have such an important detail in the title. I wasn’t super thrilled at first when we had to read it for English class but in the end, I enjoyed the book. 

My Brother Sam Is Dead is a historical fiction novel that takes place during the Revolutionary War. The story is told by Tim Meeker. Tim Meeker is a young boy who helps his parents at their tavern and looks up to his older brother Sam. Sam Meeker is a college student at Yale and is expected to have a bright future ahead of him. One day, he comes home from college and brings home the news that he has decided to enlist in the army to fight in the war. Not only is he fighting in the war but he is also fighting on the patriots side while the rest of his family and his town he lives in are loyalists. Sam and his father argue and their family is tearing apart. Now Tim must decide who to side with, his brother he looks up to, or his father he has obeyed for his whole life.

My Brother Sam Is Dead uses a lot of accurate historical elements making the story clear to understand. I ended up really liking this book. I was never really interested in historical fiction when I was younger but I guess my taste had changed. The characterization of each character was unique with Tim being unsure of his and everyone’s decisions and Sam being ambitious and righteous. The character development through Tim showed a boy who grew up. At the beginning he was a child but throughout the years, he had to grow up and fill other people’s shoes to help himself and his family. 

The characters I really liked were Father and Tim. Father was strict on his kids but there were parts in the book that showed he was still human and he could hurt. He cared about his family and just wanted them to be safe and happy. Tim was childish and wanted to prove himself but as he grew he became like his father filling his role. Tim became independent and successful by the end of the story, and lived his life.

I liked My Brother Sam Is Dead. I hadn’t expected much from this book but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it was a school required book, I had fun reading it and had some slight emotional moments in some parts of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to those who like historical fiction and even to those who don’t. 

-Nicole R.

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz

Seventeen-year-old Kamran Smith is living the life—he’s the star of his football team; dates a popular, beautiful girl; and—though his family originally comes from Iran—has always felt like a 100% accepted American.

And then Kamran’s older brother, Darius, is accused of being a terrorist. Kamran can’t bring himself to believe any of it, but hard evidence has been exposed to the public—films of Darius threatening his country and implying a looming fatal attack.

Suddenly, in the whole world’s eyes, Kamran is labeled as a terrorist as well. His closest, supposedly loyal friends abruptly turn on him. Kamran is determined to prove to the world that Darius is not a terrorist.

Racing against time, Kamran discovers a sequence of clues and codes that he must unscramble to guide him to the truth about Darius and the dangers that lie ahead. As he puts his life at risk in saving his brother and the world, he never ceases to believe that his brother is not a terrorist. No matter what evidence there is, he knows Darius is innocent. No matter how much the world thinks otherwise, he is convinced Darius would never betray his country

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz, the story of Kamran Smith; is a thrilling, action-packed read that brings to light themes of loyalty, doubt, prejudice, and perseverance. Though it is slightly unrealistic, it’s still an incredible novel. I would definitely recommend Code of Honor, especially to those interested in historical fiction, current events, or action novels.

-Lam T.

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Little Men, the second book after Little Women, once again written by Louisa May Alcott, is truly just as warm and cherishable.

Anyone who loves Alcott’s classic Little Women will undoubtedly love Little Men just the same. Though this book regards less about the characters in Little Women, save for Jo and Mr. Bhaer, it revolves around a new generation of children, including Meg’s children and Jo’s children. As we know from Little Women, Jo went on to establish a children’s school named Plumfield, which is where nearly all of the events in this book take place, as it revolves around the pupils who live there. Plumfield serves as a school and home for young children who have no other place to go; many of which are orphaned, poor, or alone whom the Bhaer’s kindly take in. 

The story begins by following a storyline but then changes course to be a series of random days and happenings at the school, following no particular order. This change in the way of writing is quite pleasant, as Alcott captures little flashes and special moments in the school. 

Warm sunny days and cold, yet cozy winters around the fireside. Berry picking, pie-making, pillow fights and storytelling, naughty instances and sweet moral lessons.

Now, in terms of one of the most arguably beloved characters from Little Women, Jo, readers can now see what Jo is like all grown up; a school teacher, a mother, and a wife. She is older, quite motherly, and much more mature, but never lost her amusement in spending time with boys or her wild side.

 In this book, Alcott truly captures the spirit of both parenthood and childhood and the dynamics between the two. Though this book is about children and more so directed to young readers, it is a heartfelt, beautiful read for any age. Similar to Little Women, it’s characters are easily lovable yet do not lose a sense of realism and are each incredibly well-written. I highly recommend this book!

-Aisha

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

The Outsiders is a coming of age novel based in the 1960s and written by S.E Hinton. Told in the eyes of fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, who talks about his gang consisting of Darryl Curtis, Sodapop Curtis, Steve Randle, Keith Matthews, better known as Two-Bit, Dallas Winston, or Dally, and Pony’s best friend Johnny Cade. Sodapop or Soda and Darryl or Darry are Pony’s brothers who are all going through a tough time after losing their parents and having to deal with money issues and the Socs; an abbreviation of Socials, are the rich, peppy kids on the Westside who jump greasers which are the people on the Eastside, and the name of Pony’s gang. Even though all these troubles, this family of three has many friends to help them out throughout the book.

Pony is a bookworm, a movie lover and a daydreamer. Being the youngest in the gang, he grew up thinking that the Socs were all the same and there would be no way that their two groups, the Socs and greasers, can get along. And he goes along believing that but throughout the book, he finds that it isn’t like that. The only way Pony find out the truth is because of his adventure with Johnny. He and Johnny meet two Socs named Cherry and Marcia. After talking with them, he finds that they are different than what he had originally thought they were like. Cherry talks to him and proves that even if they are Socs, their life isn’t perfect, and they have problems like everyone else.

Later in the story, Pony and Johnny have to run away and hide out after a series of events leading to future events and problems. Through this experience, Pony grows stronger bonds with everyone and learns more about what their thought are and what everyone is going through. The same with everyone else. Even though not directly mentioned in the book, it is implied that the people around Ponyboy find out more about him throughout the story too. they grow closer with each other after each hardship they overcome such as their family problems and loss of others. These help the characters grow and realize different things.

In this novel, there are some topics that some may be uncomfortable with such as, alcohol, bullying, depression, death, etc. Even with these topics, this book is a wonderful masterpiece that shows different themes to teach the reader, has interesting characters that pull them in, great storytelling, and a magnificent plot. This book expresses different emotions through each character’s actions giving them a real personality where some people can relate to. It was a quick read, at least for me, and I loved it. It made me feel things that I haven’t gotten from other books. Overall, The Outsiders was an amazing and genuine book that I would recommend to anyone looking for something to read and is okay with the topics discussed inside of it.

-Nicole R.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

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This is the first novel of Saul Bellow and it talks about the declining lifestyle of Joseph, who believes that a spiritual satisfaction overweighs material perfection. For some reason, I think that this character has a great pride lurching in himself. He denies his slovenly condition of life by claiming that it’s austerity which is the factor that should be valued in our daily life.

What makes the entire situation worse is that Joseph’s brother, Amos is really rich. He always offers unlimited financial support for Joseph and his wife Iva, but Joseph never accepts it, again, due to his obstinate pride. Sometimes I think it won’t be a bad decision to just say “thank you” and accept the money for the simple reason that pride won’t feed you, clothe you, live with you forever. But money fulfills all three circumstances.

My favorite part of this book would actually have to be the fight scene between Joseph and his 15 year old overweening niece Etta. As a wealthy only child, she is undoubtedly spoiled by her parents. She gets whatever she wants. And as a small child, she is used to hearing how poverty has had her dad stricken, but now she is lucky because she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. This naturally places her in a position to despise poor people, especially if they are her relative, meaning Joseph.

Etta’s disrespect for Joseph was magnified when she called him a “beggar” because Joseph was using her piano without her permission and refused to hand it over to her. In turn, Joseph was riled by this act and beat Etta up. Now, Joseph and Etta have a lot of similarities, not only do they look physically similar, but they both think that they are always right no matter what. One thinks that she is always right because of her rich parents who provide her with boundless support, one thinks that he is alright right because of his spiritual purification.

-Coreen C. 

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin

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This book, like many other of Baldwin’s novels, includes many scenes of bisexuality and racism. Barbara and Leo Proudhammer stick together like a pack of gum, I can feel Barbara’s oppression of his love for Leo because one he is black, so this white woman under societal pressure backed up and could only watch Leo from a dark corner. However, it wasn’t long before Leo also steps in and the two crossed the line: and failed. Both eventually returned to their positions as friend and from that on I wouldn’t say the amorous aspect of their love for each other just vanished, but the two characters did an awesome job of suppressing it.

My favorite character in this book would actually be Caleb, Leo’s brother who is a World War II vet. He was falsely imprisoned when he was a young man, but through his faith in Christianity, he was able to release his grudge for white people. Now, in most books religion occupy a huge chunk of Baldwin’s plot, but usually in a negative way as he always seems to question or deny the positive influence of religion and denounce it. But in this book perhaps Caleb is the first character who actually was able to eradicate his sense of racial discrimination through the divine guidance of God. Nonetheless, though, Christianity also Caleb very orthodox and traditional. He didn’t like Leo being an actor and constantly rebukes him for being an atheist. This implies a theme of maturity because before Caleb was arrested he was a very promiscuous and frivolous person.

The reason I love Caleb is not because of his devoutness in Christianity but that his love for Leo, his little brother. It may not be conveyed in the best way, but he tries his best to create an atmosphere of family for Leo which is very heart-warming.

-Coreen C. 

Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is about two rival groups known as the Greasers and the Socs. The Socs, a group of rich kids with everything they could dream of, commonly pick on and beat up the Greasers. Ponyboy, the main character, learns to live with the Socs always breathing down his neck.

However, one day the Socs take things too far. While Ponyboy is at the park with his friend Johnny, Socs show up and beat them per usual. However this time, they hold Ponyboy’s head under a fountain. Johnny watches helplessly as he tries to figure out what to do. Finally Johnny gets out his switchblade and stabs the Soc that was drowning Ponyboy.

Terrified, the other two Socs flee in their car, and Ponyboy and Johnny go to find someplace to hide. They hide in an abandoned church until Johnny decides to turn himself in. His reasoning for this is that he hasn’t ever gotten in trouble with the law, and it was in self defense, so his sentence couldn’t be that bad. Before they can though, the church catches on fire and Johnny is injured saving kids inside the church. Johnny is sent to the hospital and treated for bad burns on his back. He dies, leaving Ponyboy with three last words as advice, “Stay golden, Ponyboy.”

-Emilio V.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Taking place in beautiful Venice, Prosper and his little brother Bo are running away from their evil aunt Esther. They ran away because Esther is planning on separating the two boys, keeping Bo and sending Prosper off to boarding school. But, the two manage to escape and run away into the land that their mother always told them about, Venice.

Luckily, the Thief Lord, or Scipio, take them under his wing along with a few other children. The rugged band begin to steal valuable items to sell to make a living. A mysterious man, the Conte, asks them to steal a wooden wing for a very high amount of money. Of course, the children agree and start their hunt for the wing.

The novel follows Prosper’s struggles to take care of his brother while still trying to participate in the wing hunt. Deeper into the book, you realize that the Thief Lord is actually the son of a wealthy man, and has been stealing his own father’s money for the group! The children begin to distrust the Thief Lord and decide to steal the wing on their own.

What I really liked about this book was how independent the children were and how they could make a living by themselves. My favorite character was definitely Bo because he reminded me of myself; a reckless, teasing, little brother. My favorite twist is when you find out the Thief Lord is the son of a rich man because it is so surprising.

Exciting and surprising, The Thief Lord written by Cornelia Funke is an enchanting novel for middle school readers. It contains many twists and turns that will leave you wanting to read more. This is one of the best mystery novels that I have read and I am planning on reading the sequel when it comes out!

-Daniel C

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier

I was assigned to read this in my Social Studies class. Since we where learning about the American Revolution it was a fitting read for this topic.

The book was about Tim Meeker. His brother Sam Meeker was enlisted in the American Revolution. The only problem was that his family disagreed with him. The Meeker’s were Tories which meant they where on the side of the British. The whole story is about how the war affects people.

I thought the first part of the book was a little boring. But just like all great books they pick up in the end. That is exactly what this book did. At the end of the book I realized it was a true story. Most of the things in the story where real.

Early in the book Tim was a young boy. In the first chapter he got so excited when he was going to milk Old Prue which was a cow.  Since his brother did it he thought it was so cool when he saw Sam do it. Of course it wasn’t as cool as he thought it was. I thought this sequence showed how little brothers always look up to there older brothers.

Later in the book Tim was working in the family tavern and sometimes he would get unsurprising visits from Sam. Sam wouldn’t come all the time of course. He would just come once or twice in about two years.

When you picked up the book from the start to end you could really see how much Tim progressed from a child into a adult. You could really see him take charge after his brother was gone off into the war. Another main theme in the book was violence. Readers are really opened up how the war just doesn’t affect the soldiers it affects everybody.

The town of Redding (which is the town Tim is from) is affected a lot because they have a lot of cattle and the soldier need it because there hungry.

-Max U.

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Outsiders by S.E Hinton

Image result for the outsiders bookIf you can visit Oklahoma back in the 1980s, you might have seen the gangs called the Greasers and the Social. Greasers, earn their name from the grease used to style their hair–enough to supply you to cook with for about two days. Life is unfair? No, it’s just too far to the Social, for their parents feed them money every day so that they are too full to stand up, walk to the fridge and grab a piece of bread to eat as lunch.

Ponyboy Curtis, whose parents died when he was little, lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry. One day, after going through a drastic fight with his brother, he ran away to the park with his friend Johnny. After witnessing the frantic Johnny killing a Social member, a rival gang, Ponyboy realized that life is going to smash him as hard as it can on the face.

I was very intrigued by this book that I couldn’t put it down for a second. But it’s absolutely incredulous to imagine teenagers killing somebody but still survive after all these streaks of dangerous events. But if it’s me, I’d rather behave well and listen to my older brothers because they are my only family members and I know that they love me so much like my parents.

-April L.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive