Old Rogaum and His Theresa by Theodore Dreiser

This is a short story written by Theodore Dreiser and I read it last week from an old book I found on the bookshelf. Though I wasn’t really expecting many surprises from this story, towards the end I was still surprised by its content.

The story starts off with old Rogaum who is a German butcher with his family living in New York. He calls his children one by one to bed every day at nine. His oldest daughter Theresa however, refuses to obey her father’s bed calls thinking that it is restricting her personal freedom. She is a girl in her puberty, therefore, wishing to show her charisma to boys. Almerting, the son of a stationer and also a member of a gang club, fell to Theresa’s interest. They were together for quite a long time before Almerting starts to complain about Theresa’s curfew. But since Theresa comes from a religious family, she refused to listen to Almerting’s wheedling. However one night, Rogaum decided to show his daughter some consequences of coming home late and locked her out.

Desperate to get in and later angry at her parents, Theresa wandered off by herself and met Almerting who coaxed her into coming with him to his club room. This leads to Rogaum looking for his daughter crazily when he saw a girl attempting to suicide laying half-dead at his feet. The girl galvanizes Rogaum to look even harder afraid that the same thing might happen to her daughter. Eventually, he was notified by the police that Almerting was with Theresa.

Overall, there weren’t a lot of surprises. But what I learned from this story is the love our parents give to us. They might be mad at us for not obeying them like Rogaum. But they do it for our sake. So as children, it is probably not a good choice to imitate Theresa and get ourselves hurt in the future.

-Coreen C. 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This heartwarming story is not an ordinary book. It is told through the eyes of a dog, Enzo! The book actually begins at the end of the book, or more specifically: the end of Enzo’s life (cue the tears). Enzo knows his time is up, but his owner Denny does not.

Then, the book goes back to the beginning, when Denny first adopts Enzo from a farm. Denny at that point is a bachelor, a professional race car driver. Enzo during his first year with Denny learns a lot about cars and car racing. About a year or two later, Enzo becomes a big brother and protector to Zoë, Denny and Eve’s daughter. Everything seems to be going well until it doesn’t.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead

Enzo silently watches as Eve suffers from constant headaches making her unpleasant to be around. He can sense the illness inside Eve but cannot say anything to warn the family. Eve fights a tough battle, but unfortunately, it is not a fight that she wins.

Denny, fresh-faced with his wife’s passing, is now faced with a custody battle with Eve’s parents who deems Denny as unsuitable for Denny to raise Zoë. He ends up selling his house and giving up racing temporarily in order to do anything they can to take back custody of his daughter.

The rest of the book consists of arduous trials consisting of an accused assault (that was not true), difficulty in getting back Zoë; things just are not going well for Denny. Luckily there is a turn around for Denny at the end; he gets back custody of his daughter, the assault charges are dropped, and gets an amazing offer of a new job as a car test and track instructor in Italy. Eventually, Enzo’s race is reaching an end, and Denny realizes this so he lets Enzo run to a field, where Enzo can run faster and never stop.

I definitely recommend this book but it is a tear-jerker (fair warning)

-Phoebe L.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire is set two years after the end of World War II in New Orleans. The play follows the lives of two differentiating sisters: Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois. 

Stella chose to leave their home in Belle Reves to marry Stanley Kowalski and explore the reality of the world. Meanwhile, Blanche held on to the fake riches and luxury of Belle Reves until all her loved ones died. 

Blanche brings the daydreams and illusions of her Southern Belle persona to visit her sister. While she lives in the cramped flat with Stella and Stanley, Blanche builds a fake personality to charm everyone and hide her dark past. Eventually, Stanley reveals Blanche’s secrets to Stella and uncovers what truly drove her to insanity – desire.

 Thus, the play focuses on the theme of illusion versus reality. Williams shows the audience of the terrible consequences that come from not owning up to your own actions. He emphasizes the ideal “Romantic” era in contrast to the cruel reality of World War II’s effect. 

The play’s symbols, irony, and allusions tie in beautifully in order to make the reader understand the underlying tragedy. However, this classic book is recommended for analytical individuals or for those who want to reach out of their comfort zone. I loved reading this dramatic literature as I am sure others would too.

-Zohal N. 

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

It so often seems that the answer to the question is always clear after something has happened and can never be reversed. No one knows why the answer wasn’t there before, why it’s here now if it’s even there at all. The only thing we could ever know is this: we should have been different Before, in order to prevent a distinguished After.

This idea, this concept that has shadowed us for as long as we have existed, is presented in Mitch Albom’s eerie and reflective masterpiece “For One More Day.”

The story concentrates on Chick Benetto, who’s addictive abuse of alcohol and general absence drives a barrier between himself and his ex-wife and daughter. Chick, believing that his broken life is no longer worth living, attempts to return to his hometown, determined to end his life in the very place it began. Before reaching the town, he experiences a fatal car crash, leaving him unconscious for a short period of time.

In his unconscious state, Chick explores a third place, in which he and his mother (who had passed away eight years previous) are reunited. Chick experiences this phenomenon as one day — a final full day to spend with his mother, fit together the mysterious pieces of his life that have haunted him since childhood, and understand the mistakes he has made in the relationship between himself and his mother.

Through Chick’s retrospective memories of times his mother stood up for him versus the times he didn’t do the same for her, the audience is able to make a compelling realization: the immense power that regret can hold over us. The concept is one familiar to us all, one with stable foundations in the evolution of human nature. Through regret, we begin to visualize the border between Before and After.

In the miraculous account illustrated in For One More Day, the readers encounter the pure, everlasting enigma that is a mother’s love. Alongside the idea of love’s promise of forever, the novel, while exceptionally sad, sends a message of hope to the readers: hope for forgiveness, hope for mending the mistakes we never truly meant to make, hope for new beginnings. And perhaps the best new beginning to offer is to pick up For One More Day and marvel at Albom’s literary craftsmanship.

—Keira D.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. OIt can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I read this book in eighth grade as a reading requirement and at first, I thought it was relatively childish and boring. Nevertheless, the more I read about it the more that I thought this is an amazing book. Through reading this book, I think the biggest thing that I learned is friendship, family and the gap between rich and poor.

Greasers and Socials are two rival groups, the former representing the poor and the latter rich. Although Greasers are poor, their friendship seems to be unwavering. Their relationship is not built upon any foundation of money, social status, or family background. But merely that we all share a similar interest and intend to achieve it. For one thing, if one Greaser is in danger, all the others would risk their lives to help. But for Socials, they would just run away afraid if their parents should find out they would stop supporting them.

The Socials seem like they are enjoying their lives and they despise the Greasers, but in my opinion, they in some uncanny way also want to be like them. They were born and raised in well-off families, the education they received requires them to be aloof towards anybody who isn’t on the same social level as them. However, I believe in some way they also want to make friends who really care about them and wouldn’t just desert them if their parents’ company went bankrupt or something like that. So deep down, I think there is a piercing desperation and loneliness both from the fake worldliness they have to confront every day and the neglection from their always busy and snobbish parents.

-Coreen C. 

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

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane

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This is perhaps my favorite story written by the short-lived but legendary author so far. It even surpasses his most well-known novel The Red Badge of Courage. Maybe because despite my great interest in the Civil War, the main character in this story touches me the most: Maggie Johnson.

Unlike her common name, Maggie is not a common girl. Just by reading the description of her family, it was pretty easy enough to tell that she detested her family. Her mother, father, and brother Jimmy all had their own life going on. They blame the obstacles in life on her. Mary Johnson, her mother drinks and fights and curses after their father passed away. Jimmy seemed unwilling to acknowledge his family as he thought it as a burden and a disgrace to his life. And Maggie was no different. Since from a young age, her violent reactions including how she trembles and hides under the table show her extreme fear for the people she’s supposed to love the most-her parents. Everything changed when Pete came.

Because of her childhood trauma, Maggie craved more than ever to find a man who is well educated and rich, mainly to save her from her diabolical family. Pete was Jimmy’s friend, I could tell he was being like a casual friend to Maggie by taking her to see plays and eat at luxurious restaurants since he owned a saloon. However, Pete was not a person who holds a serious attitude toward love or relationship, he was simply a player. And this is when Maggie gets really hurt by his rudeness later on when they met Nell, Pete’s old sweetheart. From this point on, Maggie’s imagined glorious life starts to deteriorate.

Moreover, Mary Johnson couldn’t forgive Maggie’s not coming home every night since Pete came along. In my opinion, Mary is very absurd for her requirement for Maggie as a pious daughter when she doesn’t even qualify a single bit to be a mother. Her daughter is an adult, so it’s her right to stay wherever she wants if she doesn’t feel like going home today. Besides, the wrecked condition of the house and her manner toward Maggie, of course, disengages her desire to return home after a grueling day at the clothing factory she works at.

Lastly, this story mainly just reflects how the death of our protagonist at the end proves parental failure to be a severe issue a lot of the children face even in our present society.

-Coreen C. 

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

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.