Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is an educating, eye-opening novel about two sisters, Pearl and May, whose unbreakable bond is put to the test as they leave their war-torn home of Shanghai, China, and immigrate to the United States.

In 1937 Shanghai, which Pearl refers to as the Paris of Asia, the sisters are accustomed to a luxurious life of wealth and extravagance. Pearl and May even pose as ‘beautiful girls’ for calendars and magazine advertisements, defying what it means to be a traditional Chinese young woman, much to their mother’s dismay. One night, as Pearl and May are getting ready for an evening of fun and partying, they receive terrible news from their parents: their father has gambled away their wealth.

Consequently, their father sells the girls as brides to a man by the name of Mr. Louie, who is journeying with his wife and two sons to America to find opportunity. Pearl and May do everything they can to avoid leaving with Mr. Louie and his sons, Sam and Vern, and even miss the boat they are supposed to be traveling on. The girls realize this was the wrong decision, however, as more bombs fall on Shanghai and the second Sino-Japanese war continues to ensue. Pearl, May, and their mother flee Shanghai to Hong Kong in hopes they can catch a ship to San Francisco. Unfortunately, before they are able to board the ship, their mother dies, and Pearl and May are forced to be strong enough to endure the long journey by themselves.

When Pearl and May finally arrive in America, they encounter Angel Island, an immigration station, where they are interviewed vigorously by government officials to see if they are spies. Pearl and May stay at Angel Island for a significant amount of time, and eventually, Pearl realizes May has been answering the questions in her interviews incorrectly. When Pearl asks her why she has been doing this, May tells her she is pregnant. This news shocks Pearl and she knows she must protect her sister and stall their time on Angel Island so she can have her baby in America. Pearl and May decide that Pearl should take the baby, Joy, as her own child. Once they leave Angel Island, Pearl and May head to Chinatown to find their new family. Almost immediately upon their arrival, Pearl and May begin to work at Mr. Louie’s shops and formulate a plan to earn enough money so that they can run away and start their own, independent life. These plans change quickly, though, when Pearl and May discover that Sam is a paper son, and the only legitimate son of Mr. Louie is Vern.

After hearing this news, Pearl and May decide not to run away and realize their new family is trying their best to build a new, successful life in Los Angeles, and they need all the help they can get. As Joy continues to grow, the conflict between Pearl and May starts to form. This conflict only deepens when Pearl gets pregnant and loses her baby, realizing she will never be able to have children. The United States’ suspicion of the Communist movement in China also adds to this familial controversy, and as Joy grows older, she begins to fall in love with communist ideals. Joy’s suspicious activities result in the government finding out her father is a paper son, and she flees the country out of guilt. Pearl plans to follow after her, and the book ends with her plan to go save her daughter. 

-Adriana A.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century): Bellow, Saul ...

The first two parts of Ravelstein, a biographical novel, are mainly about the last and most important stage of Ravelstein’s life. He was terminally ill, but he fought against the disease until his death. The latter part is mainly about the narrator, Chick himself is on the verge of death due to food poisoning, but he has deep thoughts about life and death at this time. Ravelstein was born in a small city and had a very unhappy childhood. His father had been poor all his life and was a tyrant in the family. Ravelstein, who grew up in the shadow of his father, came into contact with society at an early age and went out on his own. After struggling hard for many years, he finally got rid of the poor people’s life being a famous university professor. He taught students from all walks of life, many of them in important positions, including students who played an important role in the Gulf War. He maintained close contact and frequent intercourse with them. Taking advice from his good friend Chick, he turned his teaching research into a best-selling book attacking the theory of relativity, the American education system, and its declining international status and influence, and became a guest of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. From then on, he became a successful member of the upper class of the affluent society in the United States and lived a luxurious and decadent life. While he was enjoying a life of fame and fortune, he found himself terminally ill. Towards the end of his life, he asked Chick to write an autobiography for him.

Ravelstein is a charming and paradoxical Jewish intellectual. he embraced life with the indulgence and intoxication of Dionysus and the dream and aspiration of the god of the sun. He questioned the contemporary American social value and education system but highly praised the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome and loved classical music. He fell in love with Armani suits, Cuban cigars, pure gold Montblanc gold pens, and so on. He was an advanced intellectual in American society, but his manner was vulgar. When attending various celebrity social occasions, he would often splash coffee or other drinks on expensive clothes and drink them directly from a coke bottle, which even made T.S. Eliot stunned. He is a conservative who does not worship the free market, but uses his talent to produce valuable goods and become rich overnight. He advocates aesthetic, free love, but has gay friends; he grew up trying to escape his Jewish father, the tyrannical king of his family, but in his life he played his father’s role to his students and friends. The unique historical background, social situation and ethnic characteristics of the Jewish people make Jewish writers in the American culture face embarrassment in their creation. Jews in America (especially the upper-class intelligentsia), reluctant to abandon their traditional religion and unable to resist the American way of life floundered in this confusion, searching for their identity with both desire and disappointment.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow

spacebeer: More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow (1987)

The protagonist Benn Crader is a botanist. He was famous for a while but had a very unsuccessful love life. After the death of his first wife, his emotional world lost its focus, and although he later married Matilda Layamon, his second marriage brought him little happiness. There is no real love between him and Matilda, only a relationship of exploitation. The main reason Matilda, a beautiful woman, married Benn was to use his academic achievements and scientific fame as a solid foundation for her social activities. However, the novel does not simply focus on the description of Benn’s emotion, but by depicting his embarrassing situation it shows the emotional exhaustion of the spiritual world in modern American society.

Intellectuals can grasp the essence of things under the surface and are willing to use their wisdom and superb skills to advise the public. Therefore, intellectuals are not only knowledgeable people, but they are also doers of social moral standards and pioneers of reform. Through the ages, they have maintained their intellectual identity in vain, even at the cost of their lives. The protection of intellectual identity has gradually become a kind of collective unconsciousness. Intellectuals fulfill and maintain their identity as spiritual leaders, but this identity is subverted by the impact of mass culture. Popular culture deprives intellectuals of their right to speak. They communicate through film, television, and other media new role models, value systems, and lifestyles that are unconsciously internalized by the masses. The common people were so absorbed in the convenience and diversity of popular culture that they were no longer interested in intellectual dogmas.

When the identity of intellectuals is questioned or even deprived, the group of intellectuals feels an unprecedented sense of loss. However, the helplessness of intellectuals is not completely caused by the isolation of the society; the internal differentiation of intellectuals greatly accelerates the disintegration of the intellectual group. Intellectuals do not know whether they have been assimilated into popular culture or whether their identity as intellectuals has been lost. In fact, in the materialistic modern society, intellectuals began to lose their spiritual integrity. In “More Die of Heartbreak”, Benn compromises with society when he cannot find true love. He becomes an impoverished intellectual who lacks independent survival ability and even an independent personality. He needs constant consultation with his nephew Kenneth to get affirmation before he can calm down.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Herzog by Saul Bellow

Herzog by Saul Bellow - Reading Guide: 9780143107675 ...

Herzog, the hero, is a university professor. He is knowledgeable, kind and sensitive, but he is at variance with the real society. He was married twice and divorced twice. The second wife, Madeleine, was fooling around with his best friend and drove him out of the house. Like an outsider, Herzog wandered about outside the family and society, but he could not find a spiritual way out. He was extremely miserable and lonely in heart, and he kept writing letters to all kinds of people, exploring and searching for the meaning of survival. He knew that he would not be understood, but regarded as a lunatic. But then he felt happier and more peaceful than he had ever felt before. Herzog came to visit an old flame, but immediately left without saying goodbye. Later, he returned to his childhood home and took an old gun that his father had left behind. He wants to kill Madeleine and Valentine. But after seeing Valentine patiently bathe his little daughter, he lost the will to kill. Soon after, he had a car accident. The police found his gun and detained him. His brother paid the fine before he was set free. Herzog in his middle years was bewildered, dizzy, mentally broken and helpless. In the end, Herzog and his lover Ramona return to their country home and found a home in love and nature.

The name of the protagonist of the novel focuses on a middle-aged Jewish intellectual seeking psychological balance, trying to find a foothold in the process. Herzog is a Jewish historian who teaches in the university. He is a senior intellectual who advocates rationality and bourgeois humanism. He believes in the development of social civilization and cares about the living conditions of human beings. Two failed marriages, his best friend became the lover of his second wife, and his emotional difficulties drove him almost insane. Because real life is everywhere against him, the hero fell into the habit of writing letters in the crazy meditation of a deep spiritual exploration. He vented his frustrations in words or in his head in a thousand letters but never sent any. He wrote to family members, relatives, friends, newspaper editors, even enemies, and prominent members of society, living and dead. Here Bellow does not directly show the readers Herzog’s personal life experience, but lets the isolated intellectuals in real life reflect his confusion in the process of trying to state the past, search for rationality, clarify thinking and find themselves.

-Coreen C.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden - Wikipedia

Walden is a collection of essays by American writer Henry David Thoreau. Walden is a record of American writer Henry David Thoreau living by the Walden Pond. It describes what he saw, heard and thought over a period of more than two years. The book is rich in content, profound in meaning and vivid in language. Walden is composed of 18 essays.

In the process of the change of four seasons, it records in detail Thoreau’s inner desire, conflict, disappointment and self-adjustment, as well as the complicated mental process of his desire again after adjustment, which went through several cycles until its final realization. It shows that the author employs it to challenge his personal, and even human boundaries. But this kind of challenge is not the infinite hope of realizing self-worth, but the infinite power of recovery after injury.

Thoreau’s own practice at Walden Pond and his works have a consistent proposition: return to nature. In his works, he constantly pointed out that most of us modern people are trapped by family, work, various material needs, have lost spiritual pursuit and lived a materialistic life. That is still the case today, and it is getting worse. Many of us pay little attention to things beyond our petty personal interests and activities. In a global context, Walden has become a model of harmonious coexistence between man and nature. In the broader sense of ecology and biology, Thoreau was way ahead of us.

The myth of Walden represents a primitive way of life in pursuit of perfection, expressing an ideal that is both attractive and practical to contemporary people. This model is of ecological significance to us today, because the destruction of ecological balance and environmental degradation have reached a rather serious level, and many ecologists and environmentalists are working to protect the few remaining wealth left by nature to human beings. Thus, Walden is no longer just a specific place where the famous American writer Thoreau lived, wrote and thought. It has become a symbol. In Walden, we can find a way of life, a romance between man and nature, a persistent pursuit of ideals, a concept of embodied nature, and the eternal desire of man to approach and merge with nature.

-Coreen C.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Nightfall by Shannon Messenger

Sophie Foster is an elf, a powerful girl who lives in a glittering world full mythical creatures, fantastical places, and elves with every superpower-like ability under the sun.  

But with so much going on, Sophie can never seem to figure out what the Neverseen, the evil group of rebels, will hit them with next.  After Sophie’s human parents are kidnapped by the Neverseen, Sophie finds her sister Amy in her human home and takes her to the Lost Cities to keep her safe.  Keefe and Sophie travel to Ravagog, the home of the ogres, to try to form an alliance with the ruler of the ogres, King Dimitar. Through it all, Sophie and her friends are trying to figure out what Keefe’s mom means when she talks about his legacy and how it is connected to Nightfall, a mysterious place where they must go to discover the elves’ true past with humans.

I love this book and this series so much. Next to Harry Potter it’s definitely one of my favorite series of books. I recommend reading this book and the rest in this awesome series!

-Kaitlyn S.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

So B. It by Sarah Weeks

I was looking through my bookshelf, pondering which book I could write a review for next and my eye wandered over this lovely novel I read as a fifth-grader. Six (seemingly long) years ago, I read this book and was touched. My reaction remains the same even as I read this book again in 2018. Wikipedia labels So B. It as a children’s novel and yes, based on its reading comprehension levels, the label makes sense. But on a deeper, emotional level, the book holds a number of truths.

A twelve year old girl, Heidi, lives with her mentally disabled mother, whose name is practically unknown, and Bernadette, an  agoraphobic neighbor, Bernadette. Their lives are built around these obstacles and uncertainties for as long as Heidi can remember but as she starts to grow up, she becomes aware of the gaping holes in her history. Wondering more about her and her mother’s past lives before meeting Bernadette, she embarks on a cross country journey to answer her questions: Who is her father? How did she and her mother end up at Bernadette’s door step all those years ago? What does the mysterious word “soof” mean? Her search for the truth begins with her mother’s list of 23 word vocabulary and an old disposable camera, starts in Reno, Nevada and ends in Liberty, New York.

Along the way, Heidi meets various strangers from different paths of life and she learns important lessons that ultimately make her wonder if it’s always worthwhile to uncover the truth and realize how uncomfortable or undiscoverable the truth is. Heidi balances tragedy and luck, love and loss, hope and defeat on this coming-of-age journey.

Week’s novel may be a children’s novel at surface level but I definitely believe that the audience gains perspective after reading this book. The characters in this book are easy to love and the plot is simple to follow, making for a quick read. There ought to be no excuse for you not to check this one out!

-Jessica

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This book was one I randomly picked up mainly because the cover art was interesting and seemingly had nothing to do with the synopsis. (I later discovered that the tent on the cover was intricately woven into the plot, which took me by surprise.) The story line intertwines the lives of three girls from three time eras: Adri from 2065, Catherine from 1934 and Lenore from 1919.

2065: Futuristic Adri is prepping to take a one-way trip to Mars in hopes of finding a feasible way for human life to prosper there. As she trains for her flight, she stays in Kansas at her distant cousin’s house. Here, she finds a journal and letters of a girl that lived there over one hundred years ago, thus leading to a puzzle of the past that Adri is determined to solve.

1934: Living in Kansas during the treacherous Dust Bowl, fear and unpredictability of the future sinks its claws into Catherine’s family and lover. She must overcome all odds and find the strength to do what she deems right to save the person she loves the most. Even if it means running in the opposite direction of everyone’s advice and never looking back.

1919: Lenore struggles to recover from the impact of World War I and the loss of her brother by keeping her chin up and sending letters to her best friend. She decides to move to America in hopes of finding a better, happier life but obstacles make her journey nothing less than arduous.

I thought there was no possible way these three girls could have anything in common, especially if they’re all from drastically different time periods. However, Jodi Lynn Anderson found a clever way to link them all together, while highlighting the balance between family and friends, fate and adventure. All the pieces clicked into place seamlessly and made for a beautiful plot.

Midnight at the Electric was one of those books I couldn’t stop reading and once I finished, I had to take a minute to gather myself before continuing on with life. I definitely recommend this book to those who want something mysteriously intriguing but also touching and easy-to-read!

-Jessica T.

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian follows almost-16-year-old, Daria. Proudly Iranian-American, she is not ashamed of her heritage, which is different from the clique she and her friends have dubbed as the “Nose Jobs,” whose leader used to be Daria’s best friend. Daria and her friends nicknamed themselves  “the authentics” because they see themselves as real and honest. They have a great vibe in their group, and feed off each other very well. Daria’s family is another major part of this novel, and they also love and support Daria. Despite having normal, familial disputes, she values her parents. One day, she is researching her ancestry for a school project and this leads her on a journey that will forever change her life.

This novel had many different aspects, and these all came together in a beautiful way. Family was an important subject in this book, and was depicted realistically by Nazemian. He not only showed the celebrations and happy times of the family, but he included the hardships and troubled times the family faced as well. The way the family changes and grows throughout the course of the novel is done well. More than the family, Daria grew and matured into a young, intelligent lady. Facing hardship, I admired how she did not allow for anything to get to her on her self-discovery. In addition to depicting the coming of age of Daria, the author also includes commentary about Iran that enhances the novel. Overall, this is a great novel and provides the reader with an interesting outlook of life.  

-Anmol K.

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be download for free from Overdrive

Shaken: Fighting to Stand Strong No Matter What Comes Your Way by Tim Tebow

When I saw that Tim Tebow would write a young readers copy of his book Shaken, which I read and loved, I was ecstatic! I adore Tim with everything he does, and this book is no different!

The book starts off with Tim going through a tough time in his life: getting let off from the Eagles. He explains how he got through it and how we can all get through tough times by letting God lead us and remembering his love for us. Throughout the book he let’s us into the kid’s life’s that he has worked with and how tough they have it and what he has learned from it. He never comes off as having an ego and always tries to tell us that it doesn’t matter how people view you on Earth, it doesn’t matter if you are popular, we are all equal in God’s eyes!

I believe this book would be perfect for any child going through a tough time (especially if they know Tim and enjoy football). It really manages to hold the readers attention.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy to review.

-Skylar N.