Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is about Crispin, a poor boy who grows up shunned. Crispin grows up in Stromford, a manor run by Lord Furnival and the steward John Ayecliffe. After Crispin’s mother dies and he is charged with robbery, Crispin leaves Stromford to go to a different town. On the way he comes across a town in ruins. Looking around, Crispin sees a man in a Church. The man asks Crispin what he’s doing there and where he came from. The man soon claims Crispin as his servant after learning that he escaped from Lord Furnival. The two set off with Crispin not entirely trusting the man named Bear. As the two get to know each other more, they become friends. Soon Crispin learns that he has also been charged with the murder of Father Quinel. Then, in Great Wexly, Bear and Crispin find out that Ayecliffe is also in Great Wexly. Soon after, Bear is captured. He is taken to the Lord’s house. Crispin then decides to rescue Bear and leave Great Wexly. At night, Crispin sneaks into the Lord’s house and tries to find Bear. While looking for Bear, Crispin runs into Ayecliffe. Ayecliffe turns to call the guards, but then Crispin tells Ayecliffe something that makes him pale. He tells him that he is Lord Furnival’s son. Ayecliffe knows it’s true, but tries to dismiss it as a lie. Finally, Ayecliffe gives in and admits to knowing. Crispin uses this as leverage to make Ayecliffe set him and Bear free. Ayecliffe agrees to set them free, but right before they leave Great Wexly, Ayecliffe tries to go back on his word. However his attempt is stopped by Bear killing Ayecliffe. All the guards then back away in fear as Bear and Crispin leave Great Wexly free of any kind of obligations.

-Emilio V.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available as a free download from Overdrive

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a story that takes place in late 19th century Norway. The main character of the novel is Nora Helmer, and she is married to her husband, Torvald Helmer. She is treated like a doll by her husband, and has no say into any decisions that are made. She is there as a plaything for her husband, and has been molded by society to not have own identity as a person. Despite her characterization as a dim-witted doll, she is hiding a big secret. Nora borrowed money without any permission from either her husband or father in order to help her family while Torvald was sick. This kind of action was unheard of for a woman to do at this time, so she never told her husband from where she got her money from. Once her secret is threatened to be revealed, the course of the novel changes from the depiction of a typical, happy family of the Victorian time to something modern, but not normal for that time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it was not a typical read for me because it was a novel assigned to me by school. It was an easy read, but the story kept me hooked from the beginning. Initially, I was a bit wary of the way Nora was treated, and just thought of her as silly. However, when her secret was revealed, my opinion of her changed. The rest of the novel was now on a different, more interesting course of action. The ending was not only surprising, but very controversial for that time. I would recommend this novel, regardless if it is assigned or not,  for anyone in order to see the importance of this kind of novel at this period in history.

-Anmol K.

Henry Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, one of the most acclaimed authors of America, was written almost a century ago about the Dust Bowl, but still manages to evoke emotion to this day.

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family and some friends, who have lived in one home as farmers in Oklahoma for many generations, but are forced off the land by the government as a devastating drought wrecks the Midwest. They, along with thousands if not millions of other unfortunate families, head to California in search of a better life as fruit pickers, but it’s an extremely difficult journey. With one creaky caravan that can hardly go a hundred miles without breaking down, and very little cash or backup, it’s a risky trip that eventually leads to two family members dying along the way and one deserting. But even when they finally reach the promised land of California, the Joads face discrimination and realize that what the poster advertising the help needed on farms of California didn’t tell the entire story.

Steinbeck has a unique diction and syntax. He often writes a chapter composed entirely of dialogues without quotes and no narration, choosing instead to let snatches of conversations of nameless characters set the mood and paint the scene. It’s very effective, even more so as Steinbeck writes the words as they sound in Southern accent that catches your attention. He is also very descriptive and incorporates a plethora of literary devices. But most importantly, the issues he wrote about are still relevant and relatable today, and the death of a character feels as real as it does in life. The Grapes of Wrath is a very good read and there is no wonder why it’s deemed “the most American of American classics”.

-Michael Z.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive for free. 

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

This was yet another book assigned to me in my English class this year. Surprisingly, contrary to the other books our class has read, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Typically, I have a strong repulsive reflex to gore and all war related subjects. The discomfort my stomach feels and the immense sorrow I feel for fallen soldiers weighs my heart down. Remarque’s novel did just that but to my surprise, this book is one I’d read again.

Nineteen year old Paul Baumer narrates the daily lives of him and his German companions as they experience the horrors of World War I. Technological and warfare advancements such as trench warfare, tanks and poison gas pose serious threat to these inexperienced young boys. Paul gives a detailed account of the inhumane living conditions and terrific attacks where every man’s life is on the line and chance is the determining factor if one lives or gets blown up. A reader gets to meet and befriend all of Paul’s closest companions: Kat, Tjaden, Kropp, Kemmerich and others that Remarque reveals are the only people in the world that can understand and love Paul. Together they flirt with girls in attempt to regain their innocence and connection of the world they left behind and together they fight to survive, not only to keep themselves alive but to stay alive to support and comfort each other. There are humorous moments and there are melancholic moments that all coalesce to make Remarque’s masterpiece.

Like many war novels, the conditions and experiences sound absurd to civilians back at home. However, while majority of war novels glorify the bravery and heroism of soldiers, Remarque’s novel takes an opposing standpoint. War is not beautiful nor adventurous; war is a slaughterhouse that takes souls, strips them of innocence and leaves them fearful and desensitized. I love that Remarque chooses to focus on the negative effects of war and admonishes society for our constant exaltation of combat. Young children in our society have minds filled to the brim of the same ideals that Paul and his friends were taught in grade school. Their teacher, Kantorek, pounds patriotism into their young minds and shoves the hungry desire for glory down their throats. But the brutality of war destroyed any want to serve their country and gain homage back at home; Remarque desperately wants society to recognize his pleas of reducing war glorification.

The loss of innocence and the admonishing of war glorification is only two of the numerous themes depicted in this work. There are touching themes of friendship and there are heart wrenching themes of the Lost Generation that make the reader reflect on humanity and the value of life rather than spurring the reader into an acclaim of warfare. Remarque’s work is bittersweet, providing immense catharsis but an unsettling question in the back of one’s mind. Is war worth the pain? Are those who survive wars really surviving if they come back home only to suffer from PTSD and detachment from a life they once lived? There is no other book I’d recommend to a reader who wants a gripping but thought-provoking read.

-Jessica T.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is availalbe for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Image result for a thousand splendid suns

Mariam and Laila- Two women, born years apart and having incredibly different lives. One grew up in extreme poverty as an illegitimate child, while the other went to school and dreamed of making a difference in the world. However, both are affected by the power changes in the Afghani government, including when it started to regulate women’s lives in the late 1990’s. When they finally meet each other, their world changes despite having no initial relation to each other in the first place.

I found this book to be very well written. It was easy to read, especially compared to books such as Shakespeare. Although there are some terms in another language, they are often translated or not as much importance, but still keeps the feeling that you are in a faraway land.

On top of that, Hosseini keeps the atmosphere of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, very well. He describes food from there, yet also references places such as the Bamiyan Buddhas in order to keep this atmosphere, which is done very well.

The characters themselves are amazing. The book is in two different points of view, which are between the women, and one can see how different they are, yet wanting the same things in life.

However, the book does get into what Afghanistan is facing now. The book takes place over forty years, so it is easy to see how Afghanistan changes under local rulers to the Soviets and to the Taliban. Especially under the Taliban, we see how women’s lives are changed for the worst. However, we also see the abuse of women by their husbands even before the Taliban, which can also be very depressing. On the other hand, without any spoilers, I can guarantee that the ending is very satisfying, so it is important to stay all the way until the end!

Overall, I highly recommend this novel, and encourage others to read it.

Megan V, 12th Grade

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The novel Things Fall Apart was written by Chinua Achebe in 1958, and follows the story of Okonkwo. Set in Umuofia, a fictional village in Nigeria, it details life in Africa before European colonialism and after. The first part of Things Fall Apart introduces the reader to life in a typical African village, with Okonkwo as the main protagonist. A hard-working man looking to escape the shame brought by his father, Okonkwo rises to a high position in his village, becoming one of the leaders.

In the second and third sections of the novel, Achebe begins to write about the settlement of Europeans from the point of view of the African people. He details the effects colonialism has on Africans, and the complete disruption and, eventually, destruction of traditional tribal life. Though the main character Okonkwo does try to fight this, his attempts are futile in the end.

This novel has great literary significance as up until the publishing of this novel, most books about African life were written by the point of view of Europeans, who would often portray Africans as inferior and primitive in their novels. However, Chinua Achebe would be one of the first of a new wave of African writers. He would show the world a new perspective on colonialism and how it was not always a good thing. This amazing novel brought about great change in the literary world and is one that should be read by all.

-Kobe L.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is available for checkout form the Mission Viejo Library

Suspect Red by L.M. Elliot

Suspect Red, by L.M. Elliot, was one of the most historically accurate books I’ve ever read. It takes place in the 1950’s, which was the time of the Cold War. This book has everything, from psychotic secret agents, to power-hungry communists. I used this book for an English report, and it gave me an abundance of powerful characters and vivid scenery to write about. Another factor that I really enjoyed was the length of the book. It wasn’t too long, nor too short. The book, in my opinion, is a great read for all ages.

The storyline follows the point of view of Richard, a teenage boy who loves reading. However, the nation is thrown into distrust, with communist propaganda around every corner. Hundreds of classic books are being thrown out, their authors accused of being pro-communist. His father, who Richard idolizes, happens to be working under the people responsible for this overexaggeration of fear, the FBI directors.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone looking for a good, well-rounded historical fiction read. If you’re interested in the Cold War, or just think the cover art looked cool, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Thank you for reading my review on Suspect Red, by L.M. Elliot. Definitely take this book into consideration!

-Luke D.

Suspect Red by L. M. Elliot is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library