The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a memoir by Jeanette Walls describing her turbulent childhood years, and how she and her siblings survived poverty and neglect against all odds. Her father was an alcoholic who she longed to trust, but who let her down time and time again. Her mother was an artist with her head in the clouds, with little grip on the realities of hunger and child safety. The Walls family lived a “nomadic” lifestyle, often voluntarily living without a roof over their heads. Despite the many struggles of their childhood, the Walls children became successful in life. They succeed in spite of their parents.

The tone of the novel is set when within the first chapter, Jeannette burns herself cooking food over an open flame (at age three) and her father subsequently breaks her out of a hospital. What follows are the many, some humorous, several depressing, exploits of Jeanette’s father Rex Walls. One of the main focuses of the memoir is Jeannette’s relationship with Rex, who cares for her deeply, but who can’t give up alcohol for his children. An ongoing question that the reader must ask is whether this love is genuine, and whether his stated care for Jeanette justifies his many flaws. Rex always promised his children that he would build them a house made entirely of glass- a glass castle. It is up to the reader to interpret whether this castle was ever intended to be built.

This book truly is a must-read. It is not simply a novel; it is a recording of real life. It is full of danger and emotion, and brimming with moments that will make you laugh, and (quite often) cry. If you are looking for a page turner of a success story, look no further.

-Mirabella S.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

It’s said that a mother is one of the most important people in a person’s life. To Maya Angelou, her mother, Vivian Baxter, was no exception. As Maya Angelou said about her mother, “You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult” (197).

Mom and Me and Mom follows Maya Angelou through her journey learning to trust and love herself and the people in her life. After being abandoned and sent to live with her grandmother until her early teenage years, Maya was astounded that she would have to live with her “movie-star” mother. Maya just could not get used to Vivian Baxter; she was so different than her grandmother. It would take years before Maya would call her mother Mom, frequently referring to her as Lady or Mother. Also, though Maya asked for advice from her mother, she took no charity and moved out to live on her own as soon as she was able.

But thanks to her mother’s guidance, Maya led an extraordinary life, raising her son and working so many unique and varying jobs that took her all over the world.

This novel was incredible! Maya Angelou is such an inspiration, with what she made of her life, despite some of the situations she was dealt. My favorite part of the book was how easy to read it was, even when dealing with tough topics. Maya Angelou told it as it was, with a level of grace that was amazing.

I heard about this autobiography through Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads. Emma Watson, in tandem with her work for UN Women, created Our Shared Shelf to promote feminism and equality. Their current recommended novel is The Handmaid’s Tale, which I can’t wait to read next!

– Leila S., 11th grade

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Farewell to Manzanar is Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s personal, non-fiction account of life inside the Japanese internment camps that the US government put in place during World War ΙΙ. Although many Americans acknowledge the injustice that was done to Japanese Americans during the period that they were relocated to camps along the western interior of the US, less Americans understand the full truth of what life was like inside these war relocation camps. In Farewell to Manzanar, Wakatsuki tells the story of her family’s time in Manzanar, their assigned camp, as well as detailing the repercussions that this experience had on her family.

One of the most interesting parts about Wakatsuki’s story is that she puts a great deal of focus on her life pre and post war. She does not talk only about her family’s incarceration, but also of their home before the turmoil of the war. She laces the chapters with memories from before her time in Manzanar. Wakatsuki also taps into the memories of her family in chapters where she is not the narrator. This story is not simply one about war; it also talks about a young girl growing up and discovering her interests in a place far from her home.

-Mirabella S.


Farewell to Manzanar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.


Book Review: The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom

hiding_placeThe book The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom is a story about surviving the Holocaust. Corrie was the daughter of a watch storekeeper, her father, with her sister, Betsie ten Boom in Holland. The ten Booms lived above their shop. Their lives changed when they accepted the risk of hiding Jews after Germany took over their home country. Corrie was assisted with the concealment of the Jews from a contractor who built them a secret. The room was located in Corrie’s bedroom, and the contractor informed that it will be the last place they will look. He also installed an alarm.

While resting in her bed with the flu, Corrie heard the alarm go off. After, the police entered and took Corrie, Betsie, and their father to concentration camp. The authority found out that they were keeping Jews in their home. Now Corrie and her family have to go through the struggle and hardships while trying to live at the camp. All Corrie has is her sister, father, and her faith in Jesus.

I really enjoyed this book because it described how live was during the Holocaust. The book was very descriptive. I was highly interested in this story and how the author explained her experience from entering and to being released from the concentration camp. I would recommend this to ages 12 and up. I hope you read this book.

-Samantha S., 8th grade

Book Review: Positive, by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin

positivePositive is a memoir by Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin that tells the story of Paige’s life growing up being HIV positive since birth.

Positive was a unique book choice for me as I typically do not read memoirs; in fact, I usually avoid them like the plague. My problem with  memoirs is that they are often written by people that while they have experienced something unique in their life are just ordinary people, not writers. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the stories told in memoirs, I do, it’s that too often they feel like assigned reading that I just can’t get through to matter how much I may want to.

I had this problem with I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate her story, it was just clearly not written by a writer, and I just couldn’t get through it, despite the captivating story. Still even with my past difficulties getting through these types of book something about Paige’s story interested me enough to give it a go, and I am so glad that I did.

Book vs. Movie: Heaven is For Real

heaven_real_bookvsmovieHeaven is For Real is a book written in 2010 about a little boy named Colton Burpo by his father Todd Burpo. When Colton was almost 4 years old, he became very sick with appendicitis – and almost died. However, he didn’t. All his doctors and nurses thought this was a miracle in itself because he was that sick. Even more miraculous, Colton later told his parents that he went to Heaven during his surgery. That’s right. Colton went to Heaven!

Now one’s reaction at first would be “What? No way! Impossible!” and then be flooded with questions that they just have to ask. Even though Colton’s dad is a pastor, he too felt this way. Mr. Burpo’s book takes you through the impossible yet true journey of his little boy’s experiences as told by Colton to him. It really is extraordinary, and the book itself is definitely worth a read. Especially since it’s a true story about Heaven – a topic many of us wonder about and not many people know much about.

Now recently, the movie based on the book came out. It’s never expected that a book-to-movie-adaption will be exactly the same as the original book (even the Director’s Cut, which is what I saw). But I did love this movie, and it stayed very close to the book! I suggest watching the movie first, as it’s a type of movie that leaves you wanting more, and the book is the perfect solution for that as the book goes into much more detail!

As for the movie itself, I think it’s really good! It seems harder to believe though versus reading the book. Also, some of the special effects are a little cheesy and made the experience harder to believe. The movie makers changed/unincluded some significant things from the book which I think that if they would’ve kept those things the way it had actually happened, it might’ve been more emotional.

I definitely recommend the book over the movie. It comes straight from Colton’s dad, and everything in it is true. But I’m not ruling out the movie, it was very good as well!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

“‘Most of humanity’, he said, ‘have eyes that are so caked shut with the dust of deception they will never see the truth, no matter who tries to save them'”

eat_pray_loveEat, Pray, Love is a memoir written by Elizabeth Gilbert which captures her journey across what she calls “the three I’s.” After a messy divorce with her first husband, Gilbert decided to take a journey to Italy, India, and Indonesia. In each of the three countries she made a specific goal; in Italy, to eat and learn the culture surrounding Italian food, in India, to learn about spirituality (hence the word pray), and finishes her year abroad in Indonesia, where she will experience love. I loved the book, and although it starts off slowly, you will fall in love with the book once her trip begins.

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life”

-Sara S., 10th grade

Book Review and Music Pairings: Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah

chinese_cinderellaThis was the most devastating book I have ever read!  This is the story about the torturous life of a little Chinese girl.  When she was born, her mother had a serious fever and died.  From then on, she was treated as the ‘bad luck child’.  Things got worse when she was four years old.  Her father remarried, and her step-mother was cruel, barely even noticing her.

Time passed until her first week of kindergarten where she was honored to be the ‘best student of the week.’  She got this award week after week, month after month.  Nobody congratulated her except for her kind aunt.  She and her aunt bonded and was the closest person to her.  Her aunt comforted her when nobody cared about her.  Then we learn the little girl’s name was Adeline.  Her father was very rich, but little Adeline shared only a tiny room with her aunt.  Unexpectedly, four of her siblings and her parents went on a trip.  It lasted almost a year!  When they were gone, it was paradise to be free of their strictness.  However, when they returned, Adeline learned that she and her family were moving to Shanghai.  Adeline was devastated.

In Shanghai, she attended a fantastic school and made a friend.  This became her new home where she felt  most comfortable.  However, her step-mother prevented any friends from coming over. Adeline’s home life was horrible because she lived on the third floor of the house in one room with all of her siblings.  The second floor was just for her new mom and father and their step children who received all of the attention.  No one from the third floor was allowed to enter the second floor.  During this part of the book, Adeline truly felt abandoned.  This reminded me of the song “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.  It is as if Adeline had fallen into that ring of fire.

As depressing as Adeline’s life was, there is a bright spot in which she felt she could accomplish anything and escape her past.  The author does a great job engaging the reader.  If this book was turned into a film, during the credits the song “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner should be played.  It really depicts Adeline’s interactions with her cruel step-mother, Niang.  I really liked this book but was frightened to know that this is a true story.  The author, Adeline Yen Mah, lived this life and survived.

-Maya S., 6th grade

Michael Hingson: Speaking With Vision

MHingson_Author Headshot

Michael Hingson, author of Thunder Dog

On November 20, 2013, I had the unexpected honor of meeting author Michael Hingson. I had recently read and reviewed his book, Thunder Dog, and within 24 hours of my review being posted on Teen Voice, Michael Hingson posted a comment!  I was thrilled!  In his comment, Mr. Hingson invited me (and my parents) to his upcoming presentation: Speaking With Vision at Irvine Valley College.

Even though he has been called a hero for surviving the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks in the World Trade Center through the partnership of his guide dog, Roselle, Mr. Hingson focused his speech on his life experiences before and after his terrifying ordeal.

Being completely blind, Mr. Hingson has challenges due to his physical inability to “see” with his eyes. True, this means he is forced to take a different approach to things designed for a sighted world. But this isn’t a disability to him.

Those of us who pre-judge and limit Mr. Hingson when we learn he is blind have the real disabilities. Much to the dismay of his well-meaning neighbors, Mr. Hingson grew up riding a normal two-wheel bicycle around town!  He did this without crashing into objects or running into people.  He rode his bike just like the other kids who were not blind.  How did he do it? Much like dolphins and bats, Mr. Hingson learned that our environment “sounds” different when you pass a solid object or open doorway and that distances can be determined by sound bouncing off objects. He has become an expert at echolocation.

He has also become an expert at determination and having a “can-do” attitude.  His philosophy on life first began by his parents who never believed or treated him as if he was disabled.  Rather than insisting he live in a “safe” environment, they just cautioned him to be careful. Mr. Hingson has never expected or welcomed special treatment.  But he has insisted that he have the same opportunities sighted people have.

Mr. Hingson and his parents don’t spend time worrying about what isn’t in their control (like being blind or being inside the WTC when the hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers). Instead, Mr. Hingson believes we should “focus on things you can [control].  The rest will take care of itself.”

He wholeheartedly believes that “We have to make the decision to use our tools to move forward and progress,” just like the one-word command he gives his guide dogs to signal when he is ready to go:  “Forward.”

During Mr. Hingson’s speech, it was hard to tell he was blind. If he wasn’t talking about his disability (though it’s not really a disability at all), I would’ve forgotten he was blind! This is just another way to show you that Mr. Hingson doesn’t let his blindness drive his life.

After his speech, Mr. Hingson gave me a pre-release copy of his new book aimed towards 8-year-olds and up, Running with Roselle. Running with Roselle is a children’s version of his New York Times bestseller, Thunder Dog.  I will be honored to read and review this book in an upcoming blog!

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Book Review: I Am Nujood, by Nujood Ali

nujood_coverAbout one month ago, my Girl Scout troop and I attended a screening of the international phenomenon Girl Rising, following the stories of nine girls from all around the world about their struggles to go to school. The movie was inspiring, and so we decided to read Nujood Ali’s true story about her bravery to escape her husband and defy the customs of her people to dive deeper into the topic of girls’ rights. At first I was hesitant to read this book because I was afraid of what she would describe. However, after finishing the book, I can say that this book took the movie to another level, and it truly is an amazing read.

The story starts when Nujood is nine, and she spends the first couple chapters describing her family, community, and daily life. Then she painfully describes the day she found out she was getting married to a complete stranger. She says that her mother never spoke out against the marriage, because her mother was one of the many Yemeni women who followed tradition and orders. Nujood tells of her hopes and dreams to one day marry a sweet and nice man and live happily ever after, and how those dreams were shattered when she met and came to understand her new husband. She tells of her wedding day, and being covered with the black niqab, since married women must cover themselves whenever they leave the house. She also talks about the horrible journey from her home with her strange husband to his home far away from her family. She tells of how her husband abused her and dishonored her family’s request to respect her. Nujood really thought there was no escape, until with the help of her bravery and courage, she made it to a courthouse where she demanded a divorce.

This book will fill you with such pride and contempt at the same time. Pride in Nujood for persevering, despite all the odds. Contempt for the people who ignored, or pretended they couldn’t hear. My least favorite part of the book was, of course, the abuse. However, I knew that this was a true story, and that is an essential part of her argument, so I read it with that thought in the back of my mind. My favorite part of the book is after Nujood is granted the divorce, and she goes back with her lawyer, who she respects and loves dearly, to her office. There, all of the women working threw her a “divorce party.” When they decide they will sing Happy Birthday, and Nujood confesses she doesn’t know when her birth date is, Shada, the lawyer, exclaims that from now on, that day will be her birthday.

This book is truly the most inspiring story I have ever heard. I have deep admiration for Nujood and all the other girls who have the same courage as Nujood to defy their fates. I definitely recommend this book to teens and adults because it does have some adult topics, themes, and graphics. Nujood is a very brave girl, and her story deserves to be shared and cherished.

-Kelsey H., 10th grade