The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

greatgatsby_fscottfitzgeraldPublished in 1925, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of the staples of American literature, and a favorite for high school English teachers. The novel takes place during the  early 1920s, called The Jazz Age by Fitzgerald. The narrator, Nick Carraway, just moved into the area, and is invited to his cousin Daisy’s home, who is married to Tom Buchanan. What follows is a drama-filled narrative revolving around a peculiar, mysterious man named Jay Gatsby.

I’ll admit at first I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, especially due to, in my opinion, a slow first act that doesn’t engage me till a few chapters in. Despite the poor pacing of the opening chapters, I find the rest of the events of the book to be spread out well. The first person perspective of Nick is also used well, as it upholds the mysterious tone and uncertainty surrounding many of the characters. The characters themselves are also all well developed throughout the book and fairly different from each other, providing a unique story that blended many themes together.

Fitzgerald is known for his excellent symbolism and imagery, as many seemingly small events contain messages that foreshadow future events or provide commentary on society. I appreciated these as I went back and noticed them, or as my teacher explained them to me. Another element I enjoyed was the humor, as Fitzgerald poked fun at society and at the ignorance of characters, parodying the Roaring 20s’ American lifestyle.

Overall, I was very impressed with The Great Gatsby’s storytelling, characterization, symbolism, and social commentary, while somewhat disappointed by its less than thrilling first act. I would recommend The Great Gatsby to readers who like grounded dramas.

-Ahmed H., grade 12

The Great Gatsby is available, in all its versions and adaptations, for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

janeeyre_charlottebronteImagine a young orphan, taken in by dear uncle and aunt only to be beaten regularly by their cousin and is forced to live in a small room. They is sent away to school and inherits a fortune from a dead relative. Sound familiar? If you guess Harry Potter, that is close, but someone else also qualifies.

Imagine a girl living in a mansion. She is forbidden from a certain section of the house. The man who owns the mansion asks her to marry him. It is only after she leaves and returns that she says yes. Did you guess Beauty and the Beast? It may share similar qualities, but this isn’t dear old Belle.

Now picture a girl. Now make her the plainest girl you can think of. Plainer. Not an ounce of beauty. But smart, passionate, and a strong need for independence. Now that’s Jane Eyre.

There are so many fairy tale elements in Jane Eyre that it’s hard to keep track. But the one Jane doesn’t follow directly is that of Cinderella. Sure, Mr. Rochester loves her and showers Jane with more jewels than she knows what to do with, but this Prince Charming has a secret hiding in the west wing of the third story of his mansion. As his secret is reveal, Jane doesn’t choose love, instead choosing to be true to herself. She left the ball and the charming Rochester never found the maiden who fit the shoe.

Instead, something only a fairy tale could explain. She heard him cry out for her miles and miles away. She came back in her own good time when she was ready and Rochester’s secret had been dealt with. Is it really a spoiler when this book is such a classic? I may have read this book for school, but that didn’t stop me from loving this fairy tale of a book.

-Nicole G., 12th Grade

Jane Eyre is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

killamockingbird_harperleeTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a story about the injustices served to blacks in the 1930s. Jean Louise Finch, more commonly known as Scout, is the main character of this novel. The majority of the novel is focused on the idea that a man who lives down the street is crazy, his name being Boo Radley. Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill. Over the course of the summer, Scout, Jem, and Finch become fascinated with crazy theories such as the idea that Boo comes out in the middle of the night to hunt. As the book progresses, the main idea temporarily shifts to a court case regarding a black man, Tom Robinson, raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, defends Tom despite the fact that the majority of their community is against Tom Robinson. As the trial progresses, Scout seems to gain a better understanding of the horrors blacks face in this time period. She gains an understanding for the injustices in their country.

Through the course of the story, Scout learns about Boo Radley and reaches an unexpected conclusion about him. On the other hand, Scout also learns a lot about the discrimination black people receive, the different treatment they receive, and the different social standards set for them. All in all, I think that this is a piece of literature that everyone should read because of the striking reality of discrimination. Not only that, but there are many valuable lessons underneath the character of Boo Radley. In the end, this is not only a classic, but it is also a book that contains a great mixture between pleasure and entertainment.

-Melika R.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

lordoftheflies_williamgoldingLord of the Flies, by William Golding, is a novel concerning a group of boys stranded on an island while trying to escape the horrors of a World War. As they landed on the island, two boys found each other, Ralph and Piggy. Together, these boys found a conch, and the conch gathered all the boys together. At first Ralph was elected chief, however immediately he had his power challenged by Jack, another boy on the island. Over time, what started as a civilized society, turned into savagery. The conch, which at one point symbolized civilization, eventually became useless. As the transition into savagery was made, the boys split into two groups: savage and civilized. Ralph was the leader of the civilized boys and Jack was the leader of the savage boys.

As time progressed, less boys were civilized and grew more savage. At moments, all traces of civilization disappeared within the boys, especially during their hunts for pigs. However, the book was almost meant to be ironic. While there was a war on the island, there was a war in the real world. In addition, the war on the island was portrayed as avoidable and foolish, similar to the war in the real world. The island that these boys were stuck on were actually reality. All in all, I think that this is once again another piece of literature that is amazing and one that everyone should read. The book truly portrays the little thought that is put into resolving a problem and how many countries jump straight into a war, just like these boys.

-Melika R.

Book vs Movie: The Hobbit

hobbit_bookmovie

 Who loves J.R.R. Tolkien? (Come on Middle Earth fans, raise your hands).

Now, who has read the Hobbit book? How about seen all three movies? How about even both? I can tell you that I have both read and seen The Hobbit, and can personally tell you that they are NOT the same (as expected). However, there were some things that I was pleased and disappointed in for both the book and the movie.

Firstly, the first movie versus the first part of the book. This movie, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” was one that I was very impressed with. It followed the book extremely well (better than most movies) and those scenes that were added in, they were extremely funny and/or transitioned into an important scene better than the book explained it. In fact, I was very impressed when they incorporated the line that both one of the dwarfs and Gandalf say (“Out of the frying pan…and into the fire”), which is the title of the chapter that has the scene in the book. I was also happy when the movie makers also put in one of my favorite parts (the song) in the movie, and the scenes were very accurately dramatized. Although I hate the part of adding Orcs in (there are no Orcs in the book), it really accurately leads up to Lord of the Rings, which is what it’s supposed to do. However, Gladriel is not supposed to be the movie. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit before the Lord of the Rings books, but they were published the other way around. Tolkien also grew up in an all boys school, so he never was really around girls, and thusly never put them into his earlier stories. However, Gladriel does open up a scene in a later movie, so I’ll appreciate that. Also, in the book, the dwarfs seemed like they were parading around, so I’m glad that the movie makers changed it to the dwarves acting more secretive.

Next, second part of book versus the second movie, subtitled “Desolation of Smaug.” Many of the scenes do actually happen, although I greatly dislike the whole Kili and lady elf romance thing. First of all, there are no ladies in the book, and second of all, it wasn’t going to last because Kili dies at the end of the book. Also, the whole Gandalf going to the castle was made up, but it does make a lot of sense, explaining where Gandalf went and who was the so called Necromancer whose named popped up sometimes in the book. In the book, Gandalf just randomly says that he’s leaving, while in the movie, he’s actually got a purpose (although rumor says that the whole story of Gandalf going to the Necromancer’s place is actually a side short story that Tolkien just never published, along with some other fillers in the movies). But I also feel that some scenes were too overdrawn, such as Kili getting shoot with a poison arrow, and Legolas liking someone ( he also doesn’t show up in the book).

And finally, the third part of the book versus the third movie, subtitled “The Battle of the Five Armies.” Spoilers for those who haven’t watched it! Personally, after I watched the second movie, I was wondering how the movie makers were going to do a hundred pages in a two and a half hour movie, but it seems like they did. I’ll start with the things I liked. I liked how they really emphasized the dragon’s curse: greed. Especially with Thorin, who definitely has it in the book. Next, in the book, they just suddenly introduce Bard, and five pages later, he kills the dragon, whereas in the movie, they introduce Bard, and you get to like him, and then he kills the dragon, so I like the movie better. Also, the chapter in the book where Bard kills Smaug is titled “Fire and Ice”, but I didn’t get why it was called that until I saw the movie, where Smaug is raging fire over Laketown, which is in the middle of winter and has ice caps in the rivers. Also, I liked how they introduced Gladriel’s real side, because I never knew that about her (in case you guys are wondering, Gladriel’s usual look is magic; her real side is shown in the third movie, and she looks scary).  Finally, I liked that they used The Hobbit end scene with the Hobbits taking his stuff very well, and I also like how the battle was done, which is more explained in what I dislike.

Now for what I dislike: Although I like how they lengthened the battle and showed how the main characters who died in the book die (unlike the book, which gives the whole battle scene less than five whole pages), I dislike how they overextended it! The killing of Smaug only took twenty minutes, even though it was a whole chapter, whereas a five page battle scene took over an hour. Also, why did the orcs and trolls take two whole armies?! In the book, the five armies are the humans, elves, dwarfs, then on the other side, wargals and goblins. Although I liked it better as a battle for the strategic  placeholder (movie) then as a chasing after hobbits for invaded our territory (book), I want the five armies to stay the same, or at least bring back the goblins that you introduced in the first movie! Additionally on the too drawn out, we get it, it was a battle, at least SHORTEN IT! And finally, there is great part in the first movie where Nori and some other dwarfs bury treasure from the trolls in order to get it back later. This happens in the book, and in the end of the book, Bilbo and Gandalf do get back. I wish that they put that in the movie, maybe even by cutting down some battle time!

But anyways, if you’ve watched the movie and haven’t read the book, or vice versa, please do!

-Megan V., grade 9

Book Review: The Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls

summer_monkeysThe Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls is a novel about an inquisitive boy of 14 years named Jay Berry who lives on his family farm in Oklahoma. Jay Berry has a twin sister who has special needs due to her crippled leg. His parents and grandparents are trying to save enough money for the treatment of her leg. One day, Jay Berry discovers a group of monkeys at the river bottoms while in search of the family cow; he then informs his grandfather about his discovery. His grandfather explains to him that the monkeys had escaped from a circus truck after it was in an accident.

Seeking to earn the award for capturing the monkeys, Jay Berry has his eyes set on the $100 monkey, and will also get $2 each for the smaller ones; with the money, he hopes to buy a .22 gun and a pony. Devising numerous methods to abduct the monkeys, Jay Berry has great trouble trying to do so, because the most valuable monkey, named Jimbo, acts as though he is human; Jimbo protects the other smaller monkeys like a mother protecting her babies, which makes Jay’s mission much harder. To find out what happens to Jay Berry and the monkeys, read this amusing novel.

I enjoyed this book, with mixed feelings about it. Set in rural Oklahoma, I liked the book because of the way the author described in detail the attempt of apprehending the monkeys. Jay Berry’s character was interesting, and I loved his perseverance and how he was not discouraged from capturing the monkeys. Although the book had an intriguing plot, the execution could have been improved. Recommended for 8 year-olds and above, I might have liked this adventurous book better if had read it in Elementary school. Overall, a great, quick read for somebody looking for a simple, heartwarming story.

-Anmol K., 8th grade

Book Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

macbethWilliam Shakespeare, the great English playwright, is renowned for his many works, ranging from plays to poetry to sonnets. However, Macbeth is considered to be his best achievement, known for its dark and powerful theme.

Also Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth tells the story of a brave Scottish general named Macbeth. When he receives a prophecy from three witches that declares he will be the King of Scotland, Macbeth becomes consumed with his growing ambition. With the urge of his wife, Macbeth commits a horrible murder in order to take the throne for himself. This terrible deed soon triggers a chain of multiple actions that eventually lead to a civil war that throws Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into a world of treachery, madness, and death.

Compared to the other Shakespearean plays that I have read, Macbeth was fairly easy to follow, as it had a plot line that was intriguing, almost like a novel. I found it interesting how Macbeth, who was once an honorable general, transformed into a heartless monster, whose ambition made him lose all sense of right and wrong. Overcome with guilt and paranoia, Macbeth begins to slowly mentally break down, to the point where he sees ghosts, as well as Lady Macbeth, who becomes convinced that her hands are permanently stained with the blood of the person they murdered.

All in all, I would certainly recommend this play to anyone who thinks Shakespeare is frustrating and difficult to read. Macbeth gave me a new insight on the writings of Shakespeare, and surprisingly, was very enjoyable. For those who have trouble understanding Shakespeare’s language, I would suggest finding a version with footnotes that explain and help in comprehending the Early Modern English. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s works that everyone must read during their lifetime, and it reminds us about the danger of ambition and the evil that lurks in every single one of us.

-Kaylie W., 10th grade