The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Bernett

No matter what age you are, almost anyone can enjoy a whimsical and well-written children’s classic. In fact, my most recent favorite is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Bernett. 

The Secret Garden tells the story of a girl named Mary Lennox who whilst residing at her uncle’s house tries to figure out how to get into the secret garden, which has been locked up for a decade. Along the way she makes friends and leaves her mark on the dull and somber manor. 

One aspect of this story I loved was the character development. When we first start out the book Mary is an insufferable, harsh brat who knows nothing about friendship because of her circumstances in the past. But once she opens up to people and learns to see the good in things and people alike, everything changes for her and she transforms into a kind and caring child. 

The character development isn’t limited to just Mary though, her uncle’s son, Colin Craven has been thought to be dying for all of his life. But with Mary’s help, everything seems to change for the better. 

The Secret Garden is very predictable, in the way almost all children’s classics are, but I am in no way complaining. In fact, the predictability makes way for you to become more attached to the characters because of all of their arcs. 

Now if you couldn’t tell I have an infatuation with children’s classics. To me, they are such simple and impacting stories that always change your outlook on life. Frances Hodgson Bernett is my favorite children’s book author right now, seeing as she’s written both of my favorites, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Both books which I wholeheartedly recommend. 

In short, if you’re a fellow devotee for good children’s classics like me, then you’ll love this book. 

-Asli B.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Considered by many to be the greatest novel that was ever written, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a masterful depiction of life during America’s Jazz Age. At a time when wealth and social status translated into parties and romance, Fitzgerald adeptly captures the essence of the Roaring Twenties in this novel that has persevered for nearly one hundred years.

The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, an outsider with outside perspectives on the people living around him on the West Egg of Long Island. One particularly enigmatic resident is the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby, a man with a mysterious past. Over the course of his time there, Nick discovers Gatsby’s all-consuming love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, and how Gatsby’s endless desperation to win her love and devotion has driven all of his actions.

Using Nick to stage a reunion between Gatsby and Daisy, the two proceed to embark on a romantic relationship, despite Daisy’s marriage to Tom Buchanan. Unfortunately for the two lovers, Tom eventually finds out about the affair, and that spells out the beginning of the end for both Daisy and Gatsby.

As timeless as the time during which The Great Gatsby is set, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a fantastic glimpse into America’s past, as well as into the thoughts and actions of the wealthy and the ordinary, making it relevant to every reader in modern times.

-Mahak M.

Book vs. Movie: Little Women (2019)

Though I haven’t seen any other adaptations of Little Women, from reviews I’ve read online, this movie seems to be the best of the bunch. But I highly recommend reading the book before watching it, as the plot can be confusing if you don’t. 

Little Women (2019) shifts time frames constantly, moving between the two different books. When I first put the movie on, much like almost everyone else, I was confused. Throughout the movie it was hard to tell what timeline we were following, the actresses looked the same and they were never explicitly named. 

But as the movie went on, I grew to love it. The shifting timelines were unique and something I never considered could work. The switches really helped the viewers see the parallels, and also see how the girls have matured. 

With an 800 page book made into an hour and 15-minute long movie, you obviously can’t have all the scenes. One of my favorite parts of the book was when the sisters all got gifts for meemaw on Christmas in the first chapter, but sadly that part didn’t make the cut. But some of my favorite scenes include the infamous porch dance, Meg’s ball, Laurie’s proposal, and Beth playing the piano at Laurence’s house. 

Even though I finished the book the very same day I watched the movie, I somehow felt a very strong sense of nostalgia. The movie had a really great way of not only keeping the warmth from the book but expanding on it. Throughout the movie, I ended up feeling even more connected to the book and the characters. 

Speaking of characters, let’s discuss the casting. With very reputable and well-known actresses such as Meryl Streep and Emma Watson, it was appealing form the get-go. I enjoyed all of the performances of the cast, especially Laurie and Amy. When I read the book I despised Amy, but the movie put Amy March in a much better light. It portrayed her not as a person who is bitter about what she has, but someone who knows how to get what she wants and will do whatever it takes. Well, almost everything. 

Although I may have cried at the dinner table while reading the book. After a certain scene in the movie, I was sobbing for half of it. I could feel my parents looking at me troubled but I could not keep my emotions in check. Seeing particular heart-wrenching scenes from the book played out in the movie did not help my tears in the slightest. 

The movie also added some new ideas to the famous story. The newer movie has traces of feminism such as Amy’s speech about marriage that make this classic more modernized. The more current ideals fit with the characters perfectly, as the girls were raised with very modern ideas for the time period. 

The biggest aspect that translated very well from the book was the family dynamic. The movie revolves around the sisters, and the comfortable bantering and bickering really sold it for me. You can tell that the cast was really close while filming, and the movie conveyed the exact feelings of coziness and home that came when I read the book. 

Although the 2019 Little Women adaptation is one of my favorite movies to date, the books will always be better. I encourage you if you’ve only seen the movie to read the book, as it is a classic tale full of family, love, and sisterhood. 

-Asli B. 

Little Women, in all of its adapted forms, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Don’t Let Age Kill To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird, is a beloved work of fiction that has definitely left its mark in the world of literature. That being said, many modern readers roll their eyes at the thought of reading “classic” literature and opt for more current works to fit their current palette. Classics, Little Women, A Tale of Two Cities, Tom Sawyer, etc., tend to get a bad rap for not being applicable to today’s obstacles. However, if we take these books out of their settings, they have valuable lessons to teach us. To Kill A Mockingbird is a prime example.

For Starters, The Strong Female Heroines

From Scout to Miss Maudie to Helen Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird is chock-full of heroines. Scout, with her “tomboy” appeal and rugged attitude, throw off the social norm. Refusing to give in to the petty gossip of Aunt Alexandra’s lunch group, Miss Maudie is a strong advocate for girls. Helen Robinson going to work to support her family in place of re-marrying. All of these ladies are heroines in a town where Atticus gets to be the ringleader of morality.

Secondly, The Timeless Appeal

Despite the fact that the story is set in the time of the Great Depression, the story has minimal markers of its period. For example, if the characters were traveling in a covered wagon, we would presume that the story took place in the past. Also, the characters are not time traveling. By not adding these elements, the author shows that the story is not set in another time period. Because there are not factors that make you feel that you are indefinitely stuck in one time period or another, you can imagine the story in your own context, therefore personalizing it. When a reader can personalize a story, the theme resonates more strongly with them.

The Theme

Today, the world is undergoing major construction in the frontier of equality. The most prominent theme of To Kill A Mockingbird is to treat others as one would like to be treated. Considering the tremendous strides in activism that have happened recently, To Kill A Mockingbird will stoke the flames in today’s advocates just as it was meant to do when it was published. Now more than ever, as a society we need this energy to keep up the good fight for justice.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was a phenomenon in its day. Due to being deemed a classic of literature, it has lost the appeal in today’s reader’s eyes. However, it still has so much to offer from the strong female heroines, it’s a timeless theme and the way that it can empower us to keep fighting for equality.

-Ainsley H. 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Agnes Gray by Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte. I had rather low expectations for this  lesser-known Bronte novel, but it definitely exceed… | Agnes grey, Anne  bronte, Old movie posters

Agnes met the honorable curate Weston. Although both of them are equally poor, they have the good feelings of the world, and enjoy the beautiful things of nature together in helping each other. She and Weston lived an unflashy, truth-seeking life. In the face of ignorant and cruel students, selfish and hypocritical employers, Agnes showed integrity and patience. She never gave up her efforts and pursuit. She sympathizes with the weak and often visits and helps the poor. In this, Weston has done even better. In them, goodness is reflected. Compared with Agnes Gray and Weston, the ignorance, coldness, selfishness, and hypocrisy of the young ladies and gentlemen of the bourgeoisie are obvious. Standing on the progressive standpoint of that era, the author reveals the social inequality and unreasonableness.

Agnes Gray not only reflects the personal experience of a governess in the first half of the 19th century, but also highlights the characteristics of ignorance, callousness, selfishness and hypocrisy of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in the rising stage of the British society at that time. Although they have accumulated a lot of material wealth and gained a high social status and power, readers can feel the dark side hidden behind all these grand appearances from the perspective of the author’s narration. These lords and ladies seemed to have fine manners and fine conversation, but their spiritual and material lives were far from balanced. If we cast aside that superficial appearance and go deep into their hearts, the reader will find that they are very poor in spirit.

Mr. Murray does nothing but drink and abuse, Uncle Robson is devious and takes pleasure in killing animals and insulting people, and Lord Ashby eats and drinks excessively. Even the Reverend Hatfield, the spiritual guide of these upper men, was no gentleman. From the pulpit he was eloquent, discerning and guiding, and presenting himself as the spokesman of the savior of mankind. As soon as he stepped off the pulpit, he showed his true colors. He tends to the ladies of the rich family. He is witty and talkative on the surface, but in reality he is a buffoon and a smooth talker. When he failed to court Miss Murray, he went out of his way to threaten her, and all the dignity and grace of the preacher was gone. In contrast to them were Agnes Gray, the governess, and the curate, Weston.

They all looked ordinary and came from poor families. They are indeed poor in material things, but they do not feel inferior to take the breath of the rich. They live a very full life within themselves, live by their own rules faithfully, and believe in the greatness of human love. They are striving for a balanced life, and if they have no ambition to make the world a better place, at least they want to perfect themselves. While seeking respect and love, they never forget to respect and love others. They live a life free from vanity and in pursuit of truth, which is not only their honesty to others and to themselves, but also their attitude towards life as a whole. They love knowledge and true friendship, as well as the plants and trees of nature.

They are intellectually, morally, and mentally superb to their employers or superiors. Because of their spiritual superiority, they face difficulties, grievances and injustices without deceiving themselves or feeling uneasy, and always accept the gifts of life with open arms. In this respect, the author seems to be saying that Agnes Gray and Weston’s acceptance of life is deeper and broader than that of property owners. It should be noted that in Agnes Gray and Weston, there is indeed a certain religious feeling. It is easy for the reader to relate much of the work, especially the personalities and experiences of the two men, to this background. It is true that the author measures a man’s character by the piety of his religious feelings.

The author distinguishes Agnes Gray from her employer by her faith in God and her love for humanity. But what is presented directly to the reader is Gray’s endurance, her efforts, and her pursuits in concrete life. So in this sense, religious background is only a superficial means to distinguish between the two, not the essence.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Another classic I checked out from the library this summer. This book for sure is the most well-known piece of work of Stephen Crane. It talks about Henry Fleming, a soldier fighting in the Civil War in the Union side.

Unlike some of the other war novels, this book employed succinct and vivid language to portray the brutality, fear, cowardice, and bravery in wars. It explored the main character Henry’s flight from the war, the despicable excuse he found for himself, his gradual awakening of conscience, and finally his change into a courageous soldier who transformed into an unselfish and devotional citizen willing to die for his country.

Although it was relatively short, but every detail in a battle was explained. Such as the way how the soldiers fire using their rifles, how they travel on foot from one regiment to another, how they charge forward reluctantly and in horror when their lieutenant orders them to. It doesn’t really name any battles specifically, but it does a fantastic job of expatiating everything that could occur in a battle. My favorite character is surprisingly not Henry Fleming, the main character but his friend Wilson, who was a minor character without too much of a dimensional personality. But I was deeply touched when Wilson was willing to share his bed with Henry and feed him when he fled from the battle and came back later. There was a possibility that Wilson knew Henry was lying when he said he got shot in the head, and yet his altruism melted my heart. I believe that we all need a friend like this who understands our mistakes and forgives us silently whether we admit it or not.

-Coreen C. 

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham: Very Good Hardcover (1942) |  Randall's Books

“Of Human Bondage” aims to show the reader that once one is born, one has to go through all kinds of hardships — especially in youth — and is bound by all kinds of constraints of life, such as family, religion, school, society, love (including sex), money and so on. The novel shows the dark side of a terrifying real world. All kinds of characters in the picture, driven by the god of fate, drift in the endless dark abyss. The tone of the novel is low and the conclusion is that life has no meaning and death has no significance. Nevertheless, “Of Human Bondage” is positive in its objective effect, for Philip’s personal experience has a considerable degree of social typification.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, western capitalist society fell into a comprehensive crisis in politics, economy, culture and other aspects; market depression, social unrest and war are all at hand. Traditional religion, morality, culture and philosophy are showing the tendency of disintegration. In Britain, the false optimism of the Victorian era is long gone, and this novel presents a bleak picture of the real world full of horror. It is a scene in which many characters drift in the endless dark abyss, at the mercy of the gods of fate, neither knowing why nor whither they are to be cast.

The difference between Philip and these characters was that he still wanted to fight against fate, that he tried to throw off his chains. Here, in addition to the shackles he fought against, he also represented a large number of young people who were unwilling to go along with the tide and unable to join in the social reform movement. Although the result of his struggle is only a personal enlightenment, the enlightenment itself is also an indictment and a denial of the society, or at least an expression of a yearning for real humanity and a perfect life. In this sense, “Of Human Bondage” is not only realistic, but also makes a profound criticism of society and life from a special angle.

Philip Galli was a thoughtful, personable young man, crippled by congenital disabilities, solitary, sensitive, and obstinate. His parents died and he spent his childhood in a cold and strange environment. After going to boarding school, he was blighted by an unreasonable educational system. But when he stepped into the society, he was brutally beaten in love. The rough road of his life was full of thorns, and every step he took was tormented by pain and left a wound in his body and heart that could not be healed. All the sufferings in the world are caused by this broken-hearted society. In the novel, the protagonist Philip finally realized the truth of life, in fact, is the author’s own view of life and society after the conclusion: life is meaningless, and can not be changed into another.

It is obvious that this is why Maugham chose “Of Human Bondage” as the title of his novel. Artistically, “Of Human Bondage” fully embodies Maugham’s writing style. First of all, there is a very moving story in the novel. Although the protagonist’s experience has many twists and turns, it is written in a concentrated way without too many clues. Secondly, there is no abstract psychological description in the novel, but all descriptions are very specific. The motivations of the characters are expressed through specific behaviors, thus having a strong sensory effect. Finally, the novel’s style is lucid and unpretentious. The language of his novels aims at fluency, clarity, conciseness and harmony, so he uses colloquial language in both narrative and dialogue, which is refreshing and pleasing to the eye.

Authors We Love: H.P. Lovecraft

Although many people do not know Howard Philips Lovecraft, what many people do know is his works. His stories precede him and are a staple in pop culture.

Born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft was born the only child to Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susie Philips Lovecraft. Throughout his childhood Lovecraft was shown to be remarkable and intelligent, being able to read and write at the age of 3.

Lovecraft did not begin to write actual stories until the early 1900s, with his first short story “The Alchemist” being published in 1916. Soon after, “The Tomb” and “Dagon” were published. “Dagon” is considered to be the first of Lovecraft’s works that would eventually be grouped in a collection called The Cthulhu Mythos, coined by a close friend, August Derleth.

This mythos, meant to encompass Lovecraft’s stories which focused on the terrifying unknown and the capricious nature of the universe, includes a pantheon of terrible god-like beings called The Great Old Ones. This is partially inspired by the Greek pantheon, albeit a twisted, nightmarish vision of gods that watch over the universe and earth.

Stories such as “The Call of Cthulhu”, “At The Mountains of Madness”, “The Dunwich Horror”, and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” are the most popular of Lovecraft’s. He is also considered the pioneer of cosmic horror, a subgenre which emphasizes the insignificance of human’s actions because in the grand scheme of the universe we are nothing but playthings to horrors that lurk just beyond our solar system.

Other items from Lovecraft’s stories, such as the fictional city of Arkham, the nefarious Necronomicon, and even the great Cthulhu himself have been referenced in pop culture despite many people not knowing the true origins from which these staples come from.

Lovecraft’s stories as a whole are extremely well written and do a good job of sucking the reader in and keeping hold of them until they finish the story. Although the dialogue occasionally comes off as somewhat stilted and unnatural they are nonetheless excellent, terrifying stories. They are unsettling and they leave the reader with a looming sense of dread unlike any other.

The idea of an uncaring universe, with beings that we cannot even begin to comprehend existing just outside of our peripheral vision, brings out that instinctual, deep fear of the unknown, and the fear of being all alone.

The works of H. P. Lovecraft are available at the Mission Viejo Library. 

Films, Animation, and Literature (oh my!)

The reason we study so many older works of literature in school, so we’re told, is so that we can get an idea of the popular media that influenced the culture of that time period.  Stories like The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Hamlet have had a significant impact on the development of both America and western culture as a whole.  These stories were either a significant part of America’s identity as a literature and cultural powerhouse, or greatly affected the public both inside and outside of America.  Many of these writers weren’t known until after their deaths, but their works became influential long before some of us were even born.

But stories are nothing new to the human race.  Oral tales, fables, and ancient religious texts are some of the oldest records of stories we still have. These stories, too, shaped the course of human development, and some are still well-known to this day.

But what about today’s great, influential works?  What kind of media shapes the culture of America today?  What kind of creative works will people in the future be studying?

Thanks to the advancement of technology, new creative works are shared with the world every day.  Many of them can be found by other authors on this blog, in fact!  But clearly there are far too many now to read them all, so how do we determine the most influential ones?  It’s simple, really; ask yourself, what media did you consume as a child?  Movies, TV shows, or books?  Many of us reflect fondly on the animation from Disney, or J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  These are the what shaped us, and shape many children growing up today.  Of course, something doesn’t have to be for children to be influential to our culture, but many of the most fondly looked upon pieces of our modern media are from the YA rating section of books, or are for even younger audiences.  Disney has been a driving force behind the invention of new animation techniques and basically created the animated industry as we know it – and recently, they’ve purchased more and more influential franchises to put under their name.  Harry Potter has introduced a whole new wave and understanding of magic and alchemy, and has shaped generations into viewing magic in a very different light from their predecessors.  Characters like SpongeBob and Mickey Mouse are as recognizable if not more as Gatsby from The Great Gatsby.

It’s interesting to think about a generation in the distant future that may learn about our cultural icons like how we learn about old literature nowadays in school.  People may groan about having to study Pokémon all day, like how we groan about having to study Shakespeare’s plays.  Imagine a world where people who enjoy SpongeBob are labeled “theater nerds” and people who enjoy Shakespeare are labeled “history buffs”. That may very well be what our distant future is like!

-Leanne W.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Image result for the phantom tollboothIn this story, Milo can’t focus on leaning like the other kids can. One day, by accident, Milo drove his electric car and was transported to the Land Beyond where he met Tock, a dog that has a clock on its stomach. Together, they planned an adventure to explore Dictionopolis, the world of words.

I am a student who feels like being decapitated when I go to school, it’s real torture. And I really wish that I can enter this type of fantasy with my dog. But it’s also unrealistic, only recreational because a kid needs the care of his parents and without going to school, he can’t survive in this cruel society.

King Azaz, who presides Dictionopolis, assigned Milo and Tock a new mission, to rescue the two princesses Rhyme and Reason. When they left, a new companion joined them and he is the helpful but querulous Hombug. From their they will head to Digitopolis, there will be many dangers lying ahead waiting for the advent of Milo and his companions. But righteousness will also vanquish evilness.

-April L

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.