East of Eden by John Steinbeck

eastofeden_johnsteinbeckI have always been a fan of John Steinbeck’s novels, and his descriptive language and relatable characters never cease to draw me in. At relatively 600 pages, East of Eden certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s not just a book; it’s a complete saga that powerfully chronicles the generations of two families. It isn’t just a retelling of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel; it’s a story about the capacity of the human soul and heart.

As with many of Steinbeck’s works, East of Eden is set in the beautiful Salinas Valley of California. The plot involves the intertwined destinies of the Trask and Hamilton families, but mainly focuses on the development of Caleb and Aron Trask, from birth to adulthood. Although they are twins, they are complete opposites of each other, in both appearance and personality. Each brother is faced with different obstacles throughout their childhood, but both share the struggle of coming of age and accepting their individuality. Cal and Aron’s journeys to overcome this struggle and embrace their inner selves ultimately depict the strength of love and the human spirit, as well as the power of human beings to break free of their apparent destinies and choose their own paths to follow.

I absolutely love the characters and themes that Steinbeck masterfully conveys , especially through his use of metaphors and allusions. Buried within every page are countless allusions, and finding them is like a treasure hunt, attempting to uncover every single hidden meaning. Even the title is an allusion to the land of Nod, just to the east of the Garden of Eden, where Cain is punished and banished by God. The themes are also endless, but some of the most evident are good versus evil, rejection, whether or not we are our brother’s keeper, and timshel, or free will. Unlike many novels, East of Eden doesn’t focus on a single protagonist; instead, Steinbeck develops multiple complex characters, from the benevolent, virtuous Sam Hamilton, to the ruthless, malicious Cathy, to the insightful, compassionate Lee. Each character is relatable in their own ways and convey how even though we may all be human beings, we all possess different qualities that make us each unique. We may all be our mother and father’s sons and daughters, but what we make of our lives is ultimately determined by only our decisions and our will-power to exemplify timshel.

-Kaylie W., 12th Grade

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

wearetheants_shaundavidhutchinsonIf you knew the world was going to end, but you had the power to stop it, would you?

For Henry Denton, this is not such an easy question. The aliens who regularly abduct Henry, referred to as sluggers, gave him this choice. Henry does not think living is worth it: his father left when he was young, his mother lives a terrible life, his grandmother has Alzheimer’s, his older brother quit school, his best friend committed suicide, he has a secret but abusive relationship, and he is regularly mocked for being “Space Boy.” There seems to be no end to his troubles. Wouldn’t everyone just be better off if they were all wiped off the face of the earth? No one would have to suffer, his grandmother’s life would not have to fall apart before her eyes, his soon-to-be niece would not have to grow up in such a terrible world.

We Are the Ants follows Henry as he discovers how to live in this world, which turns out not to be as bad as he thought. People surprise Henry. People encourage him. People help him find closure. They help Henry decide whether or not to push the button to save the world.

What I thought would be a science fiction book about a boy abducted by aliens was definitely not what I ended up reading. This book comments on how terrible life can get but how perfect the little things can seem. My favorite part was the relationship between Henry and his grandmother, who frequently forgets Henry’s name. I loved seeing how Henry transformed throughout the novel to the point that he gave the perfect gift of memory to his grandmother. This novel is a bit strong for younger teens, but reading it certainly alters one’s perspective on life, so I would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S.

We Are The Ants is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

mysisterskeeper_jodipicoultIn The Fault in Our Stars, John Green says his novel is not a “cancer book.” Well, neither is My Sister’s Keeper. Bound to bring the reader to tears on more than one occasion, this novel faces tough issues of today.

When Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) at age two, the doctors realized she was going to need a matched donor for stem cells in the near future. So Kate’s parents selectively chose a sperm and an egg to make Anna, in order to use the stem cells in the umbilical cord to save Kate. But Anna’s donations did not stop there. Blood transplants, bone marrow. Basically every time Kate was hospitalized, Anna was there too, donating something else to her sister.

Now Anna is thirteen. Kate is beginning to die of kidney failure, and the Fitzgeralds have asked Anna to donate one of her kidneys. But Anna is fed up, and she sues her parents for the rights to her own body. Needless to say, this causes major conflicts among the family.

This novel discusses the moral effects of having a designer baby, as well as how far one should push for their child to donate for another child. Do the Fitzgeralds love Kate more, so much so that they had a second baby just to save the first? What is it like to live in a family with a child dying of cancer?

Seems straight forward, right? Anna sues for the rights to her own body, and she either wins or loses. But, if she wins and does not donate a kidney, her sister dies. If she loses and donates a kidney, she and her sister have to go through a complicated transplant that doctors think Kate may not be able to withstand.

No matter what happens, both outcomes prove to be a loss for Anna. What do you think? Is it right to have a baby just to save another child’s life? Is it right to be forced to donate parts of your body, without making the decision yourself? Is it right to stop being a donor for someone when they are sure to die without your help?

Combined with drama between the lawyers, the delinquent son of the Fitzgerald family, and some pretty major plot twists, this is a fantastic read. The novel is so captivating, especially because it’s told in the perspective of each character. I think anyone 13 and older can handle the heavy concepts, as long as you accept the fact that you will likely cry. But isn’t that what makes a book so captivating?

Leila Salem., 9th grade

My Sister’s Keeper is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Public Library.