Authors We Love: Ruta Sepetys

Ruts Sepetys is one of the most well known young adult historical fiction authors ever! With historical fiction being my favorite genre, I consider myself proud to say that Ruta Sepetys is my favorite author of all time. I have read all of the books she has written and I consider every single one of them to be some of my favorite books. 

Unlike many historical fiction authors, she doesn’t exclusively write about one event in history. With a setting like New Orleans, Barcelona, and Siberia, Sepetys takes us into a plethora of historical events, with different time periods, people, and settings. 

One specific thing I love about historical fiction is you learn something along the way, and all of Ruta Sepetys writes about overlooked events in history. These aren’t things you learn from your history textbook, they’re much more than that. Her books take you on a journey through events like the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that took 10 times the lives the Titanic did, and is the biggest maritime disaster of all time. But for some unknown reason, nobody talks about it, except for Sepetys.

Not only does she shed these huge historical events to light, but she does also these events justice. Although what she writes is fiction, the historical events they’re based on are all too real. Sepetys does an amazing job of research. In her most recent novel, The Fountains of Silence, the back of the book offered more details about her writing and research process, as well as pages of her notes. Sepetys do years and years of research for just one novel, and by reading the books you can tell how much effort was put into them. 

As for her World War Il novels, she has interviewed countless figures, both strangers and family, that were involved in those events, and based some of her books off of real events her family has gone through. 

Another part that I really love about her books is her writing style. With short and quick chapters, the writing allows you to be constantly engaged. The constant point of view switches keep you on your toes and makes every single one of her books a page-turner.

Between Shades of Gray (2011): Not your everyday World War 2 novel, Between Shades of Gray shows the dark side of Polish deportation and labor camps. With a knowledgeable protagonist and a family trying not to fall apart in the face of war, this brutal novel is a must-read. My Rating: 9/10

Out of the Easy (2013): Out of the Easy is a novel describing the life of the daughter of a prostitute longing to be free and live her own life outside of the bustling city of New Orleans. When a customer at her bookstore is found dead, she finally finds the escape she’s been looking for. My Rating: 7/10

Salt to the Sea (2016): The biggest maritime disaster, and the long path refugees are forced to take to flee Germany, this story tells the tale no one wishes to tell about World War 2.  In this novel, everyone has a secret to tell, and with them come guaranteed tears. My Rating: 10/10

The Fountains of Silence (2019): the Fountains of Silence tells the unknown story of how the Spanish people recovered after their own civil war. Told through the eyes of a photographer tourist from Texas, and a hotel employee who works hard for every penny she earns. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of most families during the reconstruction, but the star of this novel is truly the romance. Greatest of all, you get to learn about what’s really happening with the Spanish government behind closed doors. My Rating: 9/10

-Asli B. 

The works of Ruta Sepetys are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about patience, faith, and the transcending power of love.

The novel focuses on three main characters and their intertwining stories. Aibileen Clark is an African-American housekeeper in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Tormented by her mistress and haunted by her son’s recent death, Aibileen begins to seek change. Minny Jackson is Aibileen’s best friend. She’s been fired from job after job because of her smart mouth. With five mouths to feed and an abusive husband, Minny is hardened and bitter. However, when she goes to work for Celia Ray, she discovers something new. Eugenia Phelan has been different her entire life. She’s never exactly fit in with her parents’ wealthy, white friends: she longs to be a writer and find true love on the side. As she navigates the treacherous minefield of high society and tentative love, she meets Aibileen and Minny, and the three unite to write a book that may very well get them killed.

The Help is about so much more than the complicated race relations in the mid-90s South. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age, an opening-of-heart story. Over the course of the plot, the three women learn to find themselves in the blank noise of society, to stay true to themselves when everyone else is telling them to lie. At the end of the day, that is what the novel is about. The enormous power of opening your heart and mind is realistically and hauntingly portrayed here. The hauntingly heartfelt writing style employed by Miss Stockett is perfect- the book reads like a letter written to an old friend. This is a thought-provoking novel that will elicit tears and laughs in equal measures.

-Vaidehi B.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded online for free from Overdrive

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

T.H. White’s 1958 novel is a must-read for all. The book follows the journey of a kingdom with dictators and soldiers that inspired your childhood bedtime stories about King Arthur and the wizard, Merlyn. The characters and plot were based on older novels and true events in history. The entire novel includes five shorter “books” filled with themes of knights, war, lost love, and unraveled secrets.

The first book called “The Sword in the Stone” also inspired the Disney adaption of the story. This book creates the setting for the entire journey and introduces the unknown future king, Arthur, as a young boy living as a peasant. Arthur learns, loves, hurts, and goes through multiple obstacles to find his inner truth.

Personally, the story stuck to me because of its well-thought plot and storyline that makes you feel like you are a part of its world. The story strikes you especially when you realize that the destiny of the characters was already written and known (by Merlyn) since the very first chapter of the book. For this reason, it feels overwhelming when you finally finish the novel and think of the different ways it could have ended.

White’s themes in The Once and Future King accurately apply in today’s world, despite the time between the book’s publication and now in the twenty-first century. This novel not only shows development in its characters but also within the reader.

Although this novel is recommended to be read by young adults, anyone eager enough to gain a higher understanding of the world can read it. Personally, The Once and Future King has stayed with me since I read it for my English class five years ago. Hopefully, the future readers of this novel come to love it and cherish it as much as the past readers have.

-Zohal N. 

The Once and Future King by T. H. White is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in all of it’s blue and gold shimmering splendor, is regarded as one of the greatest American novels of twentieth-century literature. Focusing on the story of Nick Carraway and his involvement with notoriously wealthy Jay Gatsby (followed by his legacy of the American dream and bitter love pursuit), The Great Gatsby dives into 1920’s American society in which the ideal life is painted as an extravagant party, born out of wealth and materialistic grandeur.

Hidden within the folds of Fitzgerald’s florid language — words of “yellow cocktail music,” a “universe of ineffable gaudiness,” “roaring noon” — the novel captivates the audience until it’s profound and raw close. The seamless flow of one thing to the next, the vivid images of a fast-paced and rich life, the timeless theory of long-lasting love and ambition: Fitzgerald renders a chaotic and recklessly beautiful portrait of the roaring 20’s Jazz Age and the world that buzzed within its history.

The incorporation of reoccurring symbols, such as the green light at the end of the dock or the constant juxtaposition of the colors yellow on blue, deepens the horizons to which The Great Gatsby stretches. Across the novel’s pages, Fitzgerald repetitively uses the colors yellow and blue to convey the ideas of truth versus wealth and false wealth in an abstract manner. Likewise, the green light brings the audience closer to Gatsby’s personal ambitions, his true substance over his outward actions.

Fitzgerald’s gradual characterization of each character increases the mysterious aura that revolves around Gatsby and those associated with him, wrapping the entire story into an enigmatic piece of literature rooted deeply in American history.

—Keira D.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

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

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Image result for to kill a mockingbird book cover

Published in 1960 and never forgotten since, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a dramatic coming-of-age tale about a small Southern town poisoned by prejudice during the 1930s, only about half a century after the end of the Civil War.

Told through the eyes of eight-year-old Scout Finch, this novel appears to merely be the story of a small-town girl, but if one observes carefully and makes connections, one will discover the twisting and turning threads of racial segregation lying just underneath the surface. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and a man who believes that justice is blind, faces the most dangerous trial of his life when he attempts to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, from a rape charge.

In the background of all this, however, is a quaint depiction of Maycomb, a tiny village at the heart of Maycomb County. The reader watches Scout Finch grow from a young tomboy to a slightly older tomboy, as she loses her innocence in the face of the hate brought on by racial prejudice.

All in all, To Kill a Mockingbird is the kind of book that will stay with the reader long after they have finished it. Combining delightfully accurate prose with an undercurrent mocking the idea of segregation, this novel is an extraordinary one, pulling any and all readers into its pages and holding them there from the very first page to the very last word.

-Mahak M.

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

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities is a piece of classic literature that many teenagers are required to read in English class. Which mean that when many people including me go into reading this book, it is in the mindset of getting it finished for class. Of course, reading for school also seems like a chore.

The book, however, is not horrible. Though, it is quite difficult to read and has a storyline that is confusing. Which makes reading this book take a long time because to truly understand what is going on, it has to be read slowly and be comprehended. But, reading books in this style of old English is a skill and does get easier over time.

This story is placed in the late 1700s and is focused on both England and France during the French revolution. Which makes it interesting for those who are into history. It gives an insight into life during the revolution and the turmoil and chaos that followed it.

The main character that the story follows is Charles Darnay, who travels between both France and England, as well as Lucy Manette and her father Dr. Manette who are the other main characters of the story. They allow the reader to have insight into the personal life of someone during the French Revolution and gives a different side to this historical event other than the typical reading from a textbook.

Throughout the story, there is a lot of drama, with long sections of suspense can be captivating but also off-putting for it seems as if there is no end in sight. There are long sections of buildup which are often partially resolved. Especially with Mr. and Mrs. Defarge who both help and betray Darnay. They also a large role in the revolution.

Overall, this story is confusing but is worth reading at least once. It gives a reader a better understanding of reading literature and of the past. It does take a while to read but, as the story goes on it become more interesting. This book is good for someone looking for a challenge.

-Ava G.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

From the author of the well-known The Three Musketeers comes The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic tale of romance, adventure, and overarching revenge.

In 1815, Edmond Dantès, a talented sailor on the cusp of marriage, finds his golden life stolen away from him when he is cruelly betrayed by his supposed comrades. Branded a traitor and sentenced to life in prison, Dantès, innocent and heartbroken, has no idea the scale of the conspiracy presented against him. Of the three co-conspirators, all were considered the unfortunate man’s “friends”: M. Danglars, a fellow sailor who was desirous of supplanting Dantès as captain of their ship; M. Fernand, who loved the woman Dantès was to marry; and M. de Villefort, who ignored his duty as a man of law and sent a faultless young man to prison to protect his murderous father.

However easily they may have gotten away with their crime in round one, they certainly did not keep up their success in round two. After spending fourteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Edmond Dantès sets himself at liberty, and returns to France as the enigmatic Count of Monte Cristo, the man everyone knows yet no one does.

Receiving wealth beyond belief from a fellow inmate, the count, tenacious and patient, not only avails himself of the opportunity to exact revenge on the malicious men he blindly trusted, he also uses his immense wealth and munificence to benefit the lives of those who helped him in the past.

In the midst of all this, however, life goes on, and romantic intrigues, marriage refusals, and the like all continue on in the background of a slow-moving chess game only the Count of Monte Cristo knows is being played.

Mind racing, excitement overtaking, any reader, no matter what genre they prefer to read, will root for the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, and condemn his enemies to their given punishments.

-Mahak M. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Overdrive

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is about George Milton and Lennie Small trying to find a job and settle. The reason that this is such a difficult task is because Lennie has what seems to be memory loss. He constantly forgets what George tells him. He also doesn’t understand what is right compared to what is wrong.

[Editor’s Note: Spoiler Warning]

This book tells of George and Lennie trying to find work in Soledad. They go to a ranch and speak with the boss before being told when to start working. When they are shown where they will sleep, they encounter the boss’ son Curley. Curley immediately starts trying to pick a fight with Lennie. As soon as Curley leaves, George warns Lennie about avoiding Curley at all costs. Curley’s wife, who Lennie is attracted to upon seeing her, is also a big problem.

After working for some time and getting to know other ranch hands, George and Lennie believe that they may be able to finally buy a house just for them. However, one day Curley’s wife finds Lennie alone and starts a conversation with him. She tells about how she could have gone to Hollywood and about her hair. She lets Lennie feel her hair, and he starts pulling on it. Curley’s wife cries out in pain, so Lennie covers her mouth out of fear of getting in trouble. He pulls on her hair more and more until he accidentally snaps her neck. When Curley finds out he goes to kill Lennie. George gets to Lennie first, and painlessly kills him so that Curley wouldn’t shoot him and let him bleed to death.

-E. Vargas

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This month, I read To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee. The story follows Jean Louise (Scout), a young girl who loves to explore the world and her town, Maycomb. She also has an older brother named Jem Finch and a father, Atticus Finch, who is an attorney. The story follows Jean Louise’s daily life, leading up to a big case her father is working on defending Tom Robinson, who was accused of a crime he did not do.

This story takes place in the 1930 during the Great Depression. Racial tensions also ran high in the South during this time, which added to the story. During Atticus’ closing statement to the courtroom, the story becomes very intense. Atticus is by far the most convincing lawyer in Maycomb but he is defending an African American against a white person. Back then, colored people were thought of as property, not people, and they did not command any respect. Atticus’ client loses the battle, and the reader really feels how biased the court, and the South, was during that time

This part of the book was my favorite, because even though Atticus knew his chances of winning were slim, he still gave it his best effort. I also liked the segment just before the defense was presented, when a group of men were about to kill Tom. Before they have a chance to do it, Scout stops them. As the fight is about to start, Scout recognizes one of the men. She introduces herself and tells the man to say “Hi” to his son, Scout’s friend. After that, the man calls off his friends and they leave. This scene really moved me. It represents how everyone is human and shares common ground. When Scout asks the man to say “Hi” to his son, the man realizes that he has a family, just like Atticus or Tom. If he killed Tom, he would never be the same, and his family would always look at him differently.

Overall, I thought this book was very moving. It had a great mix of comedy, suspense, and dramatic impact. I would definitely recommend this to eighth graders and up.

-Daniel C.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library